Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Government Keeps the Cold, Hard Cash; Help with the Heating Bills Not Getting through to the Needy

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Government Keeps the Cold, Hard Cash; Help with the Heating Bills Not Getting through to the Needy

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Rowley

FEARS have been raised that North East families are being left in the cold this winter - because the Government did too little to publicise a scheme to help heat their homes.

There was a 74% fall in applications for the Warm Front fund, which helps children, the elderly and the disabled keep warm in the coldest months.

The fall was bigger than anywhere else in England, with 8,800 fewer vulnerable people claiming the subsidy than the year before.

The Government said it had sent out mailshots in the region, but campaigners and pensioners said it had not done enough to make sure help gets to those who need it.

Now, the scheme could be set for a national pounds 30m underspend as cash lies unclaimed.

Warm Front gives out pounds 3,500 grants to insulate lofts and hot water tanks, have boilers fitted or have houses draught-proofed. It is designed to ensure vulnerable people spend less money on heating.

But figures show that, nationwide, 70% fewer people applied for the scheme from April to December 2011 than in the same period the year before.

It means a fifth of the pounds 143m-worth of funds could go unclaimed - yet the scheme was oversubscribed in 2010.

In the North East, applications are down from 12,000 to just 3,000. A variety of factors have been blamed, including stricter eligibility criteria and a milder winter, but fingers have been pointed at a lack of publicity from the Government.

Sean Fahey, the 62-year-old secretary of the North East Pensioners' Association, said: "If figures that show that the older population and the vulnerable population haven't been claiming the money, we would expect the Government to respond to that and publicise it.

"It isn't difficult to address it - they should go through older people's organisations as well as put adverts up.

"It is of concern because scientific evidence shows that this works. …

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