Save the Children in Wales warns of fuel discount help ignorance

Most families in Wales struggling to afford to heat their homes do not know how to claim £120 in fuel discounts, claims a charity.

Save The Children says 45,280 families are eligible but most do not know how to claim the UK government's new Warm Homes Discount.

It claimed the scheme was underfunded by energy firms and called for them to provide more funding and advice.

The big six energy companies said customers were advised on discounts.

Save the Children says children living in fuel poverty - or families unable to heat their homes without spending more that 10% of income - are at greater risk of suffering conditions like asthma, respiratory problems and other illnesses.

It says many eligible families in Wales have never heard of the Warm Homes Discount (WHD) programme.

It says the scheme should provide help for Britain's 800,000 poorest families - including 45,280 in Wales - by allowing them to claim up to £120 in fuel discounts.

However, it claims the scheme has been "massively underfunded" by energy companies, and only a small proportion of eligible families will receive it.

James Pritchard, head of Save the Children in Wales said: "It's unacceptable that so many of Wales' poorest families who need help heating their homes this winter will get nothing because energy companies have not put up nearly enough money.

"Without this help the choice for parents is stark: cut back on food, get into debt or risk their children's health because they can't afford to keep them warm."

The charity also wants the discount paid to anyone who qualifies for Cold Weather Payments which are made automatically whenever temperatures are recorded or forecast as an average of zero degrees Celsius or below for seven consecutive days in a row.

Energy UK represents the UK's six biggest energy suppliers.

Christine McGourty, its director, said after consultation, the UK government decided those who would benefit from core funding under the new Warm Home Discount scheme would get an automatic discount off electricity bills without needing to apply for it.

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Media captionVanessa and Paul Ives, who live in Ebbw Vale, tell of how they struggle to manage

"A wider group of 650,000 people by 2013/14 will also benefit," she said.

"All the major energy companies have been writing to their customers this winter promoting the help that is available and all of them fund the free and independent Home Heat Helpline advice service on 0800 33 66 99."

Lindsey Kearton, an energy specialist at Consumer Focus Wales, urged people who think they may qualify for the discount to contact their energy supplier as soon as possible.

"The scheme has been operating on a first-come first-served basis for many of the suppliers," she said.

"A lot of them have placed a cap on the number of people who receive that rebate this year."

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said the amount of help available to the most vulnerable had been "significantly scaled up".

It added: "Around 2m homes will get discounted bills each year under the new Warm Home Discount scheme.

"This year, suppliers will be required to spend up to £250m, that's 40% more than last year."

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was committed to tackling fuel poverty, adding: "It is essential that energy suppliers ensure that falls in wholesale prices are translated into a reduction in costs for consumers as soon as possible and that consumers are directed to the most appropriate tariff to meet their needs."

In October 2011, an independent report claimed thousands of people in the UK die each year from illnesses linked to fuel poverty.

Professor John Hills called for a new definition of the problem, which focuses on people with low incomes driven into poverty by high fuel bills.

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