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Half a million to lose Warm Home Discount, hospitality businesses opt to go dark

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The energy crisis continues to cause serious concern for many people across the UK, with potentially 500,000 households no longer eligible for the government's revised Warm Home Discount, according to charities. Meanwhile, a fifth of hospitality businesses across the UK are now choosing to close early rather than keep the lights on for longer, to cut costs.

Eligibility for the “winter lifeline” Warm Home Discount is changing, with the government shifting the targeting of the one-off payment, which has increased by £10 this winter to £150 for those fortunate enough to qualify for it.

More than half a million households could no longer be eligible for the payment, charities have warned. National Energy Action (NEA) and Scope said that 500,000 households across England and Wales are now ineligible for the discount because Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments are no longer qualifying benefits.

Some of those living in smaller homes who were previously entitled to the assistance will also miss out.

Among the 2.8 million people who are eligible are pensioners who receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit and people on a low income who receive certain means-tested benefits and are in, or at risk of, fuel poverty.

The second of these groups has been reassessed and was part of a government consultation, but the charities have said the results could leave thousands of people in serious difficulty.

NEA chief executive Adam Scorer said: “The Warm Home Discount is a winter lifeline. It is a vital part of the energy bill support schemes and yet over half a million low-income and vulnerable households who aren’t on benefits or who live in marginally smaller or newer homes will no longer receive the rebates.

“These households are likely to be either single people, single parents or disabled households. Removing a £150 rebate from these vulnerable groups is unwelcome and an unnecessary change to a vital programme – especially during an energy crisis”.

James Taylor, director of strategy at Scope, said: “It’s shameful the government is taking away the Warm Home Discount from those who need it most.

“Life costs a lot more when you’re disabled. Scope is hearing from disabled people whose health will deteriorate if they can’t stay warm. People who are having to turn off fridges and who are worried about how they will run vital equipment like breathing machines and powered wheelchairs.

“The government needs to provide more direct financial support now, not less, so disabled people don’t freeze and starve this winter.”

Alongside a number of other charities, NEA and Scope warned that with average annual domestic energy bills at a record £2,500 – almost double the level of last year – the most vulnerable people in society are likely to struggle to live in a warm, safe home.

NEA has calculated the number of UK households in fuel poverty to have reached 6.7 million, including more than three million households with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

Scorer said: “People are planning for and relying on this support. They will be appalled that these changes are being made at this time.

“Some of the most vulnerable people in our society could be left out in the cold. Charities like our own shouldn’t be left to pick up the pieces, we are already seeing record numbers needing our help more than ever.”

A new telephone helpline service for households will be launched this week, which people can call to check their eligibility for the revised scheme. The freephone helpline number is 0800 731 0214.

Some billpayers are also receiving letters from their energy supplier regarding their eligibility.

Meanwhile, the soaring cost of energy bills is hitting the hospitality industry, with one-fifth of pubs, restaurants and cafes slashing their opening hours over the past three months in order to cut energy costs.

New analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that food and drink service firms were more likely than any other sector to cut trading to deal with the mammoth increases in energy bills.

The ONS analysis revealed that 21 per cent of firms in the hospitality sector have cut their trading hours as a result, even if they were still operating for the same number of days.

Furthermore, 6 per cent of businesses in the sector said that they have cut trading altogether by two or more days a week over the past three months.

These companies were also the most likely to say energy prices were their main concern for November, with accommodation businesses close behind.

Across industry, 22 per cent of businesses said energy prices were their principal concern for November. This actually reflected a marginal decline after the government pledged to subsidise businesses’ energy bills in September.

However, food and drink hospitality firms came under particularly sharp pressure from higher bills, with 58 per cent of these companies saying energy prices are their main concern, jumping from 39 per cent only a month earlier.

As a result, around two in five (41 per cent) of companies in the sector said this expect to increase their prices in November. Similarly, 36 per cent of accommodation firms said they were set to hike prices, too.

The cost of living crisis continues to bite in all areas of UK business, triggering employee unrest. Today, hundreds of workers at a factory which makes products including Jacob’s Cream Crackers, Jaffa Cakes and Twiglets have announced their intention to strike in a dispute over pay, threatening supplies of the popular Christmas-time snacks.

Staff at the plant in Aintree have been taking limited industrial action since September, but walked out today (Monday) on indefinite strike.

Eamon O’Hearn, national officer of the GMB union, said: “These workers are rightly angry – they put themselves on the line to keep the company going during the pandemic. Now they need some help to get them through the cost-of-living crisis, but it’s falling on deaf ears.

“Jacob’s workers will now be on strike 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the company comes back to the negotiating table.”

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