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Disabled families hit hard by extra costs

Una Summerson, Head of Campaigns at Contact a Family, writes about why urgent action is needed from the Government and energy companies on extra costs for families with disabled children:

Contact a Family’s Counting the Costs campaign found a sharp rise in families with disabled children going without heating and food over the last 2 years. This is leading to ill health. With more than 3,500 responses from UK families with disabled children,

More than a quarter have extra costs of £300 or more every month relating to their child’s disability. The biggest costs being higher heating and utility bills.

Looking ahead, 60% of surveyed families see their financial situation worsening in the next year. Shaped by what thousands of families with disabled children say would help, the Counting the Costs campaign calls for urgent action by the UK government to stop this alarming trend. However, the campaign also recognises it’s not just about making sure the benefits and tax system adequately reflects the extra costs and barriers to work families face.

We are calling for energy companies take action to include all disabled children in their eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This scheme may lead to a rebate worth up to £140 on electricity bills. You can qualify if your energy provider is part of the scheme and:

  • you’re a pensioner who receives the guarantee credit of pension credit (the core group)
  • you fall into the ‘broader group’ of people that your energy supplier gives the discount to.

Each supplier has their own criteria for deciding who fits into the ‘broader group’. Some state that disabled children can be part of this ‘broader group’. Some don’t mention them at all, while others accept them if they also have a low income or child under 5. Confused, yes so are we!

Contact a Family’s helpline adviser Marian Gell says “It’s a minefield understanding the different eligible criteria for us let alone busy families. For example, British Gas use Universal Credit to determine eligibility. Since relatively few people are getting universal credit and it seems likely that many families will not be moved onto Universal Credit for several years. A family with a disabled child getting income support and child tax credit would not qualify according to these rules.”

The confusing and differing criteria, alongside the limited time families with disabled children means many often miss out on the scheme. We would therefore like to see a standard approach across all suppliers. Eligibility could be simply determined by receipt of child Disability Living Allowance. Ideally, we need disabled children not just to be recognised as part of the ‘broader group’ but to be part of the core group who receive the discount automatically and don’t have to apply.

Get involved with the campaign or find out about help with fuel bills on the Contact a Family website.