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Working Lunch Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 15:58 GMT
Heating help under threat
Loft insulation
The cash can help with insulation
It's feared that a government scheme to reduce the heating bills of low-income households could have its budget cut.

This would mean fewer grants will be available for loft insulation and more efficient heating systems.

The news comes just a week after the launch of the energy White Paper which pledged to end fuel poverty in Britain.

The Warm Front scheme was set up to tackle the problem of poorer households, especially pensioners, being unable to keep warm in the winter.

There will be more people who will get ill and then more people who die in their homes.

Andrew Warren
Association for the Conservation of Energy
But it's run by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which is still reeling from the costs of foot-and-mouth.

It's thought Warm Front could be facing a 15% budget cut.

"The impact will be very stark. It will mean that there will be more people during next winter who will remain cold," says Andrew Warren of the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

Concern

"It means that there will be more people, and I am sorry to put it like this, but there will be more people who will get ill and then more people who die in their homes."

But even before this latest hiccup, there has been concern that the project wasn't meeting the demand for grants.

Helen Cansick, Eaga
Helen Cansick: Small increase
One of the organisations which administers the grants - Eaga - says there can be waits of up to nine months for insulation work and up to a year for central heating.

That could worsen is less cash is available.

"There would obviously be a limited pot of money, demand is unlikely to reduce over the next couple of years so there would be a small increase in waiting times for people who have applied," says Eaga's Helen Cansick.

Repairing

The Warm Front grants are available in England - other nations have their own schemes.

Boiler repairs
Three million homes need heating help
If you are receiving benefits and have a child under 16 or are pregnant, you could get up to 1,500 if funds are available.

If you are over 60 and on benefits, you could get up to 2,500.

There have been 578,000 grants given out, most for insulation but 130,000 have been for fitting or repairing heating systems.

Those figures hit the targets set by the government, but there's still a long way to go to help the three million households which spend more than 10% of their income on heating.

Expanded

Some campaigners say even more people might need assistance.

"We would like the definition expanded," says Age Concern's Rhian Beynon.

"There are people who have a slightly higher weekly income but they may still be living in very cold housing.

"That's because people on a fixed income may not necessarily have money to maintain or insulate their homes."

Defra says Warm Front is a four-year scheme and it will be carrying out a review to see how effective it has been at combatting fuel poverty.

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