Over 700,000 households missed out as energy support scheme 'flopped'

Credit: PA

Hundreds of thousands of older people missed out on financial support for soaring fuel bills after a government scheme “flopped”, a charity has claimed.

Age UK said some 735,240 households missed out on support under the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Fund amounting to almost £3 million.

That fund – for households without a direct relationship to a domestic energy supplier, such as those in park homes or living on boats – has already faced criticism from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The MPs said, in a June report, that many such households only became eligible for funding at the end of February, almost five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme.

Now Age UK has said Freedom of Information data requested on its behalf showed that, of the government’s estimated 883,000 eligible UK households with atypical supply arrangements, only around 17% – equivalent to about 150,000 – were actually awarded the £400 of energy support available this year.

Many of those who missed out were elderly living in park homes and care homes. Credit: PA

The charity said many of those who missed out were older people living in park homes and care homes.

It said its analysis of figures from the Department of Energy, Security and Net Zero also showed that households in areas of the country with higher levels of fuel poverty appeared less likely to have accessed the funding.

It said that while more than a fifth (22%) of eligible households in the South East, where fuel poverty is lowest, got funding, this compared to 13% of eligible households in the North East and London.

In terms of who was able to successfully access the funding, Age UK said eligible care home residents were least likely to have done so, with only around one in 14 of them (7%) receiving the £400 energy help.

This compared to around a third of park home and houseboat residents (35%) and over half of eligible heat network users (58%).

The government said it had spent billions to protect families from price rises last winter and had used various ways to “communicate the scheme with as many eligible households as possible”.

Credit: Getty images

But the charity said the findings showed the scheme for these users had “completely flopped” – blaming a “time-consuming, complicated” application process that it said had not been well enough publicised.

The organisation said it was calling for the unused money to be “recommitted to the scheme and for the process of applying for it to be made more straightforward, thereby increasing take-up”.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “The process designed by the Government to distribute the funding was flawed so we’re not surprised the scheme has flopped, but rather than siphoning off the unspent £300 million for other purposes, we call on the Government to do the right thing and improve the scheme so these older people get the money they are due.

“After all, with energy bills expected to stay high this winter, they are going to need all the financial help they can get.

“More than half-a-million households have missed out on this financial support as a result of the fund’s failure, many of them older and living in park homes and care homes.

“We know the fees have gone up substantially in care homes because of rising costs for everything from energy to food, so the extra £400 could have really helped some residents to continue to make ends meet.

“The responsibility on ministers to resurrect and improve this funding scheme is surely all the greater when you consider that some of the areas with the biggest concentrations of older people who have missed out on the funding also have above average levels of fuel poverty.”

A government spokesperson said: “We spent billions to protect families when prices rose over winter, covering nearly half a typical household’s energy bill – this includes more than £60 million supporting over 140,000 households without a domestic electricity supplier.

“We used a range of methods to communicate the scheme with as many eligible households as possible, so they could apply to access this vital energy bills support – including a contact centre and requesting councils to write to eligible care homes and park home sites.

“We recommend that any household that did not apply should visit our webpage to view what other support they may be eligible to receive.”

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