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|More than half of the country's poorest
pensioners have been unable to access a scheme designed to cut fuel
bills, a Government watchdog has disclosed.
The National Audit Office labelled the Warm Front programme, which
is supposed to provide the most needy with energy saving measures,
"unfit for purpose" after it emerged that 57 per cent of vulnerable
households were ineligible.
Of those who did qualify for the £852 million scheme, 75 per cent
were not living in official fuel poverty - defined as spending more
than 10 per cent of household income on bills.
In a report, the NAO said that the problem was largely caused
because the scheme was targeted at those who received existing state
benefits, even though many of the most vulnerable households,
particularly pensioners, do not claim for all they are entitled to.
That meant that £34 million in grants went to homes which were
already fuel efficient.
In addition, many householders who applied to the scheme were asked
to pay for a proportion of the costs - leading to more than 20,000
to withdraw from the scheme.
Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which
oversees the NAO, said ``The households that have received help from
the Warm Front scheme are mostly very satisfied with the work done,
whether they have had heating or insulation installed.
``But many of those satisfied customers are not vulnerable families
in fuel poverty. And over half of the genuinely fuel poor are
ineligible for help.
``This is a serious shortcoming of the scheme, of great concern in
the current severe winter.''
Joan Ruddock, Energy and Climate Change Minister, said 1.8 million
households had received new heating and insulation via Warm Front
but admitted that improvements to the scheme were necessary.
She added: ``We are also looking at the issue of improved targeting
as part of the current review, as well as opening up the scheme to
Age Concern said it had received thousands of complaints about Warm
Front. Gordon Lishman, director general, said: ``With thousands of
the poorest households unable to proceed with work because they
can't afford the top-up fees needed, and thousands more on a long
waiting list, the scheme is clearly not doing enough to tackle fuel
``The harsh reality is that in these freezing weather conditions,
millions of older people are living in cold, energy inefficient
houses and are afraid to turn their heating up because of the cost -
which could be putting the health of thousands at risk.''
Mervyn Kohler, spokesman for Help the Aged, added: ``The National
Audit Office report gives stark and unequivocal evidence that the
Government's Warm Front scheme is grossly under-funded, poorly
targeted and unfit for purpose in its current form.
``The programme tasked with combating fuel poverty has failed to
even scratch the surface - a few hundred thousand are being helped
while millions are quite literally left cold. The Government's fuel
poverty strategy is in tatters."