The Government is currently making a great play about the help that is available to low income families to enable them to reduce their fuel bills. Central to such help are schemes which assist with insulation and the installation of central heating.
At first glance such schemes are generous, but it may take an expert by your side to establish whether you qualify.
Four schemes with different rules
To know whether you qualify you have to be aware that each country of the UK has a different scheme. These can be found here:
England – the Warm Front
Scotland - the Warm Deal
Wales – the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme
N Ireland – the Warm Homes
One of the common factors is that they all use the UK-wide benefit system as the qualification gateway for many of the free benefits. But they all use the system slightly differently.
Not only that, the explanations of who qualifies for each scheme can be misleading, so that individuals may decide that they do not qualify, when in fact they do.
A common problem
One of LITRG’s continuing and common pleas is for Government to join up and be coherent about “passporting” benefits i.e. where qualification for one benefit entitles you to another. The discontinuity seems to be because of the silo approach exhibited within each of the Departments. But when you are a “customer” of all of them, it gets mightily confusing.
One of the initiatives which is supposed to sort this out for the poor individual is the Government website, Directgov, but even this website is defeated by the complexity and gives up. What hope for the rest of us?
We cannot in this article cover all the difficulties; but we will provide you with a few so that you can get a flavour of what you might find if you probe deeper.
- A common qualification route is through receiving tax credits. In England and Wales, the websites state that your income if you are claiming by virtue of tax credits must be no more than £15,459. In Scotland the figure is £16,642. In Northern Ireland the website is silent but the figure is £15,050. What none of the websites say is that this income figure is the lowest income figure of either 2007-08 or the current year.
- Directgov provides details of the schemes in England and Wales, but does not distinguish between them and fails to mention the Northern Irish scheme. It tells you about the income level flowing from tax credits in England, but fails to mention that you should look across two years. For Scotland’s scheme there is no mention of the higher income limits and they indicate that people can qualify if they are in receipt of Disabled Person’s Tax Credit. As this credit was abolished in March 2003 we anticipate that this is the low cost element of the scheme.
- If you are in receipt of pension credit and want to claim, then you have to check the type of pension credit you get. If you live in England it doesn’t matter what sort of pension credit you get. But if you live in Scotland and are entitled to the savings element you are generally disqualified from claiming.
We believe that Directgov has an important role to play in sorting out the “need to know” things for the low income person struggling with the complexities created by Government.
One of the more recent complexities is the diverging approaches taken by the different administrations in each of the countries of the UK. Directgov seems to concentrate too often on England, without making it clear that this is what it is doing. Should we have a Directgov for each of the four countries? We don’t think so; but in order to meet everyone’s needs, Directgov must up their game with clear and comprehensive coverage. This will be an increasing challenge as the countries diverge more (think Scottish Local Income Tax) but that makes it all the more necessary that Directgov provides the links.
To end on a lighter note, we worry that there may be a fraudulent aspect to the English and Welsh heating websites. If you examine the satisfied customers on both websites you will discover, for example, that Mr W of Barnsley on the English site is the same man, with the same children, as Mr Chapman of Dinas Powys on the Welsh site. Both seem satisfied with their free boilers. There also seem to be several other satisfied customers moonlighting between the countries.
Contact: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700, Fax: 0844 579 6701)