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Exclusive: 400,000 disabled people lose out on help to cut energy costs

Charity slams government for showing “total disregard” as disabled people in England are cut out of free insulation scheme

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Caroline Molloy
6 April 2022, 5.03pm
Homes in winter. The government has stripped 400,000 disabled households of the right to free insulation help

Some 400,000 disabled people across England have been stripped of the right to free insulation that could bring down their heating bills, in a move quietly slipped out by the government on Friday.

Disability equality charity Scope today slammed the cut as “bitterly disappointing” and showing “total disregard” for the needs of disabled people, who they warn are the “hardest hit” by fuel poverty and face “sky high” energy bills.

Under the new version of the government’s flagship energy efficiency scheme – the ‘Energy Company Obligation’ (ECO) – access to help is being cut from nearly half of all disabled people as their income is judged to be too high, documents released on Friday revealed.

As energy costs have soared in recent months, poverty and disability campaigners have repeatedly warned that disabled people typically have higher living costs and especially higher energy needs than others, due to additional needs for heating and washing and for charging equipment like wheelchairs, hoists and oxygen machines.

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Until now, people in receipt of most benefits – including Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment – could get help from energy companies to pay for energy saving measures like insulation and better boilers, to reduce their bills and improve their comfort, under the ECO programme.

It obliges energy suppliers to cough up for energy saving measures like insulation for people on benefits, and is the main source of such support.

But under the new version of the scheme, people whose only benefits are disability-related are excluded. In future, only those who get an additional means-tested benefit will qualify for home energy saving support.

Tom Marsland, policy manager Scope, told openDemocracy: “It’s bitterly disappointing that the government has chosen to pull this support away from disabled people who face the highest energy costs. This move shows the government has once again shown total disregard for the fact life costs more if you’re disabled. Support through the ECO scheme would make a massive difference to disabled people’s bills, not just in the short-term but for many years to come.”

In its announcement of the new ECO scheme, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy acknowledged that 400,000 households in poorly insulated homes where at least one person was disabled receive no means-tested benefits. It also acknowledged there had been “strong feelings” and that most of those responding to its consultation had opposed the move out of concern for vulnerable people.

BEIS added that it expected some of these households, whilst having no automatic right to support in future, nonetheless “could be supported” at the discretion of suppliers and local authorities, who’ve been given some greater flexibility in how they administer this and other, smaller schemes.

The latest cut is a further blow for disabled people facing rising fuel costs. Last week the government also revealed its intention to bar over 200,000 of them from receiving another source of support to cope with rising energy costs – the ‘warm homes’ rebate, which provides £150 towards fuel bills.

The government has already been criticised for delays in getting the new ECO scheme up and running, resulting in a gap in energy saving delivery for low-income families and pensioners at “the worst possible time”, as openDemocracy revealed this week.

BEIS said the cut to disabled people’s entitlement to support through the scheme was necessary as only “a limited number of homes can be treated under ECO” and it had to prioritise “low-income households most at risk of fuel poverty.”

The cut to entitlements for disabled people comes amid reports that BEIS had proposed extending the ECO scheme to a far wider group of families and households, not just those on the very lowest incomes, as part of the government’s imminent energy strategy, but that the proposal had been rejected by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

BEIS declined to comment further.

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