Worst Hit by the Energy Bill Crisis

Worst Hit by the Energy Bill Crisis

9th January 2023

Meet the people who are worst hit by the energy bill crisis

by Stephanie Millar, CAS policy manager (Social Justice team).

This article was first published in the Herald on 7 January 2023.

As winter continues we’re all concerned about energy costs, and many of us are struggling with our bills. But there are some who, because of their circumstances, are feeling it more than others. A third of fuel poor households in Scotland contain a disabled person. 

Many disabled people have higher energy costs than non-disabled people. For example, they may need to heat their homes to a higher temperature or for longer periods in order to maintain mobility, prevent seizures or keep their circulation going. 

They may also they need to charge aids and equipment that are essential to their health or independence, e.g. cooking a special diet, or additional hot water costs for laundry and sanitation. 

Recent polling by Citizens Advice Scotland has highlighted the additional detriment experienced by disabled people in these circumstances. Just under a third of people we surveyed needed to keep their homes at a certain temperature. 8% had to run medical equipment and 15% had to cook specific meals. These are all unavoidable additional costs that are essential to allow a disabled person to live a healthy and independent life. 

In 2019, research from Scope found that the average additional cost faced by disabled people - over and above welfare payments provided for costs arising out of disability - was around £570 per month, and for one in five that rose to over £1000. If that research were replicated now, I dread to think how high those figures might be. 

The UK Government has given everyone a £400 payment to help with energy bills, and there’s an additional £150 for people who receive a disability benefit. But given the scale of the energy bill hikes, this won’t be enough for a lot of disabled people. 

We’re all sadly getting used to saying the line that people are having to choose between heating and eating. Many disabled people in Scotland are now also having to make a choice about whether to run their vital equipment. 

While there is some targeted support available, it’s not consistent. Families with a person under 19 on the highest rates for care or daily living in disability benefits can claim Child Winter Heating Assistance, and everyone over pension age has access to the Winter Fuel Payment. 

Working age disabled people don’t get this additional support. They used to be able to apply for a Warm Home Discount, but this no longer applies unless they’re on Universal Credit. 

It's an odd situation when a disabled child can receive additional support, but this stops as soon as they reach 19, even if their circumstances don’t change. The weather is still as cold, their additional needs remain, but their lifeline is cut off.  

There is clearly a need for much more targeted support for disabled people’s energy costs. A heating allowance for working age disabled people would go a long way to providing this. Failing to provide this additional help will have long term consequences for many disabled people’s health and independence. 

We’re all experiencing the energy crisis, but not all in the same way. We might all be in the same storm but we’re not all in the same boat. Some need more help than others. At the moment they’re not getting it.