Six million hard-up households to turn off heating this winter while £50 million earmarked to help vulnerable people goes unclaimed


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The Independent Online

Six million hard-up households will turn off their heating this winter while £50m-worth of government cash earmarked to help vulnerable people cut bills could go unclaimed.

The news comes as fuel poverty – when paying for heating eats up a tenth of someone’s income – is set to hit up to six million families.

Meanwhile energy firms are expected to increase the cost of gas and electricity, following Scottish & Southern Energy’s announcement of a 9 per cent increase in bills for its 8.4m customers from next month.

Nearly four out of 10 families are worried they won’t be able to afford their energy bills this winter, and seven out of 10 of those will cut back on heating, according to Consumer Focus research.

Yet the average home could save £600 a year on energy bills through the soon-to-be scrapped Warm Front scheme.

It aims to help the poorest households in England to make their homes warmer and cut their energy bills.

The government grants offers home improvement measures worth up to £3,500 - £6,000 for those that need oil central heating – that could cut annual fuel bills by hundreds of pounds.

And it is being widened today to make more people living on low incomes eligible for the handout.

It means even if someone has been turned down before, they may be able to get help this year.

As the scheme is in its last year, charities and consumer groups are urging people to find out if they can claim.

Mervyn Kohler, special adviser for Age UK, said:  ‘Warm Front is being phased out. When this year’s budget is exhausted, that’s it. But so far, applications are really low, and the scheme may gift an under-spend back to the Treasury.”

Over 2011-12 the scheme was under-spent by more than £50million, according to official figures.

The number of applications for the scheme are again low this year with, across England just 11,766 people applying between April and July 2012.

“A cold home is a serious health hazard, and older households - who are particularly at risk - can act now, knowing that by Christmas they will be warmer and better prepared for the dangers and worries of a cold winter,” advised Mr Kohler.

Gillian Guy, chief executive at Citizens Advice said: “We’re really worried people are struggling with their fuel bills because they live in homes that haemorrhage heat.

“Yet there is lots of help out there to make your home warmer – especially if you are on a low income.”

People can find out if they can get free help from Warm Front by calling 0800 316 2805 or by visiting their local Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK.

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