Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 00:02 UK

Heating plan attacked by charity

Gas rings
The government must restore previous cuts in spending, charities say

A charity for the elderly says it has received an increasing number of complaints about the government's Warm Front home heating scheme.

This provides money for elderly and vulnerable people to help keep their homes warm in winter.

But the charity Age Concern says it has received more than 5,000 complaints about it in the past year.

These have focused on delays, poor workmanship and the need for pensioners to make contributory payments.

The government is expected to announce extra measures on Thursday to help poor people stay warm in their homes.

Problems

Among the plans, there may be more money to fund the Warm Front scheme and a big increase in the CERT (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target) scheme.

Under CERT, energy firms rather than the government are obliged to spend money on energy saving measures such as subsidised insulation for the homes of pensioners and the poor.

"Energy efficiency measures are a key part of the long-term solution to fuel poverty, but problems with the schemes the government are using to reach low income households are leaving many without the help they need," said Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The fuel companies will sign up but they will drag their heals in implementing any change
Fred Harris, Irchester

Age Concern said complaints to its offices about Warm Front had soared in the past three years, and it blamed the government firmly for the problems.

The charity said the government had admitted to MPs earlier this year that funding for the scheme would be cut by a third between 2007/098 and 2010/11, to just 295m.

Meanwhile complaints it had received highlighted other inadequacies.

Among them, pensioners complained they could not afford the top-up payments that were often required, sometimes reaching 2,000, because government grants under Warm Front were limited to 2,700, regardless of the actual cost of the work.

The charity added that the experience of complainers, and others who asked for advice, was that delays to work left some people without heating or warmth in their homes, while others had to pay more for extra work due to poor workmanship.

The charity said that simply putting more money into Warm Front and CERT would not help all those who needed it.

"Wide-ranging reforms are needed to address pricing inequalities which are leaving many of the poorest households paying more for their energy than wealthier customers," said Mr Lishman.

Rising fuel bills

Mr Lishman's call was supported by Mervyn Kohler of Help the Aged.

"In the long term, the previously ill-advised cuts to Warm Front must be reversed to allow all homes to be more energy efficient," he said.

Meanwhile the National Housing Federation, which represents the UK's housing associations, claimed that rising fuel bills might push more than 1.5 million homes into debt by the end of 2009.

It calculated that an extra 150,000 electricity users would be in the red due to rising fuel costs, while 1.1 million gas users - sometimes the same people - would also be in that position.

This year household heating bills have been pushed up sharply by all of the big six energy suppliers, claiming that they have to pass on the increased wholesale cost of oil and gas.


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