Almost 300,000 disabled people are losing government help to cut their fuel costs just as bills rocket to record levels, in a move branded “an insult” by campaigners.
Tighter eligibility rules will remove the flagship warm homes discount from the claimants of a clutch of disability benefits, because their incomes are judged to be too high.
Ministers argue the shake-up of the scheme will better target fuel poverty, delivering help to an extra 160,000 people with a long-term illness or disability – while hiking payments by £10 to £150.
But they have rejected pleas to continue help for claimants of disability living allowance (DLA) and personal independence payments (PIP), regardless of income, because they all face higher living costs.
A government document reads: “Our latest modelling estimates that there will be a reduction in the number of rebate recipients who receive DLA or PIP by 290,000 or 35 per cent.”
Louise Rubin, head of policy at the disability equality charity Scope, called the decision “an insult to those disabled people who have already been cutting back for months”.
The discount will be removed next winter – as the typical annual fuel bill is tipped to hit around £3,000 – on the back of the £693 rise to almost £2,000, landing on doormats this month.
“Amid the worst cost of living crisis in decades, it’s almost unfathomable that the government will cut support for rising energy bills from nearly 300,000 disabled people,” Ms Rubin said.
“Life costs more if you’re disabled. Our energy helpline is now overwhelmed with calls from disabled people who are already facing sky-high energy bills – and do not know how they will afford to charge vital equipment, or stay warm, as the crisis goes on.”
Disability Rights UK called the move “appalling”. Its chief executive, Kamran Mallick, said: “Disabled people often need more hot water, more heating, and more energy to run specialist equipment.
“Far too many people are already having to choose between heating and eating. Benefits are nowhere near in line with inflation as it is. This move may push people over the edge.”
The decision comes as a cabinet minister admits a separate £200 payment to all households this autumn will be “a loan” – after Rishi Sunak repeatedly rejected the description.
But the Department for Business is arguing that most of the disabled claimants who will miss out are “less at risk of fuel poverty, if at all”.
The median income of DLA and PIP recipients is around £14,400, it said – but the “low-income criteria” of the new rules would help people taking home only about £11,510.
The overall shake-up – removing the need to apply for payments and including customers of all energy firms, regardless of how small – would benefit 780,000 pensioner and low-income families.