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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Poor 'failed' by fuel scheme
Warm Front can help reduce costs
A government scheme aimed at helping poor people afford fuel is failing to reach some households who need the most help, says a new report.

The Warm Front scheme aims to improve energy efficiency in elderly and low-income homes in England, but the scheme's design has been criticised in a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The government's spending watchdog said it was helping some households who did not need help; while it was not offering help to other people who were in desperate need.

It also criticised eligibility requirements, which meant some of the poorest people could not qualify for help - even though they were in great need of government assistance and were classed as "fuel poor".

Cold front

There were an estimated 1.8 million households in fuel poverty in England in 2001.

A household is classed as fuel poor if more than a tenth of a household's income is being used to heat the home.

The government wants to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016.

The Warm Front scheme on average helps households to save about 150 a year off their heating bills, and is very popular with people who benefit from it, according to the report.

"It has the potential to make a real difference to these households," the report said.

The department must ensure that the eligibility criteria are rethought as vulnerable people are missing out on grants
Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee

In 2001 to 2002, it helped more than 300,000 providing insulation and a variety of heating measures to reduce costs.

But some people were not getting the help they needed.

Ineligibility costs

One issue criticised in the report was eligibility requirements.

To qualify people must be in receipt of certain benefits, such as income support, child tax credits and disability living allowance, commonly known as so-called "passport benefits".

But the NAO estimates around a third of the fuel poor may be ineligible for help under the scheme because they are not claiming benefit or are not entitled to the right benefits.

In contrast, it said, between 40% and 70% of households eligible for the scheme may not be "fuel poor" because they have a reasonable level of income or live in a household which is already fuel efficient, the report said.

In addition, it recommends funds should be redirected to better assist "hard to treat" homes such as those not connected to main gas or without cavity walls.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "The department must ensure that the eligibility criteria are rethought as vulnerable people are missing out on grants.

"Such action is also due to the taxpayer who must be assured that public money is not being misdirected on such a considerable scale."

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