Written evidence from Care & Repair Cymru CLP0011

Care & Repair are Wales’ older people’s housing champions. Since 1979 we have been advocating for safe, accessible, affordable housing for older people in Wales that meets their needs. In 2021-2022, we provided support to over 56,000 people across Wales with home adaptations, facilitating quick hospital discharge into a home that is safe, and providing specialist support for people living with sensory loss. With this experience and expertise in mind, our focus will be on the support available to older people and disabled people.

In addition to some UK-wide cost-of-living measures, such as the Energy Bills Support Scheme and one-off Pensioner Cost of Living Payment, the Welsh Government provided a package of £51million to help families hit by the crisis. The ‘Household Support Fund’ included £38million for the Winter Fuel Support Scheme launched in Wales. This consultation response reflects our experience of navigating two benefits systems throughout the cost-of-living crisis and calls for better communication and joined-up support from UK and Welsh Government to support older, vulnerable households to stay safe and warm at home.

1.To what extent have the cost-of-living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?

Cost-of-living support payments have been a lifeline to thousands of our older clients.

For Care & Repair, additional payments specifically designated for older people and disabled people are a welcome addition for our client group. Automatic entitlements were particularly helpful for our client group, who often struggle with phone or digital applications, as well as exposure to information in the first place about their entitlements when so much of it can be found only online. The additional £300 pensioner payment during the winter was added automatically, which eased the pressure of needing to apply for additional support they were entitled to, and it was received in conjunction with the Winter Fuel Payment. The additional £150 payment for disabled people to support in covering their inflated living costs was also welcome. Disability Wales’ report ‘Locked out: Liberating disabled people’s lives’ showed that sickness and disability benefits had not risen with an additional £20 per week as Universal Credit did, and so were facing a rise in costs without any financial mitigation. A survey conducted by the Disability Benefits Consortium found that 95% of respondents reported an increase in living costs[1], and with more than 4 in 5 families experiencing household cost increases. By including these specific benefits for older and disabled people shows that the UK Government recognises these groups as being particularly as risk during the cost-of-living crisis. We would advocate for the focus of support to be on older people and disabled people, as these are groups that are often unable to increase their income through employment or other means.

As a part of our core service, Care & Repair caseworkers undertake visits into the homes of older people, and they have provided specific support to older people in Wales to support them in applying for the cost-of-living payments, such as the Winter Fuel Support Scheme available in Wales. One caseworker in Bridgend successfully secured a total of £3,000 for 15 clients, whilst another supported 25 individuals to claim the one-off payment, securing £5,000 in total. However, one caseworker also mentioned that ‘…there were others that I had told about this payment, but these were the ones where they didn’t have online facilities to do it or who didn’t want to ring the helpline’ and that ‘…the payment wasn’t well advertised so some of our clients wouldn’t have known about it if we didn’t mention it on our visits.’ For us, this is crucial in the payments reaching those most in need, and to make the biggest impact for those that have been affected by the cost-of-living crisis. In order for these to have been more impactful, the application process should have been proactive on the side of the funder and not the recipient.

However, at a time of crisis when energy bills have again skyrocketed, with a new Energy Price Guarantee of £3,000 from April 2023 and a price cap of £3,280 per annum. For older single people receiving a Basic State Pension of £156.20, equating to just over £8,000 per year, one-off support payments are insufficient in the long-term. The ONS reported that ‘…the price of consumer goods and services rose at the fastest rate in four decades in the year to October 2022.’ With prices of household foods increasing as much as 42%[2], there is a significant shortfall in the budget of many older people. This is on top of the poverty premium that many older people face when accessing groceries, transport and other day-to-day necessities. Bristol University’s ‘Paying to be poor: Uncovering the scale and nature of the poverty premium’ report accurately described the challenges facing clients like ours:

‘Harold’s 85 and is an active and respected member of the local community. He lives alone in the modest bungalow he built for him and his late wife some 40 years ago on the outskirts of the city. With an annual income of around £7,800 per year from various sources, Harold still runs a car which, until recently, was his link to independence. But failing health and a minor prang in the supermarket car park means he now only drives when his daughter can be with him and, without a good supermarket nearby, he heads to the local convenience store two or three times a week to top up the now occasional bigger shop. He doesn’t have the internet and can’t remember when he last switched fuel suppliers: he just pays his bills quarterly when his daughter tells him they are due, and he still receives a paper bill for his landline telephone. He can’t afford the annual premium for home or car insurance all at once and he instead set up a monthly payment direct from his bank account with the help of the insurance broker. The poverty premium he pays each year is estimated to be £860, around 11 per cent and worth six weeks of his annual income.’ [3]

Despite UK and Welsh Government support, we still had clients frequently self-rationing their energy and going without basic essentials, including one client who was using battery powered fairy lights to light their home, and one gentleman who sat in his car for an hour a day with the heater on to get warm rather than use energy in his home. One particularly stark example of the real impact on the cost-of-living crisis is below:

Mr N was referred to Care & Repair following a report from the local council that Mr N did not have any hot water or heating.  When a Care & Repair caseworker visited the property they found instances of hoarding, cat’s faeces, decomposing food, and flies. Although the Council had closed Mr N’s case after referring him to Care & Repair, the caseworker was able to liaise with the Council to clear and deep clean the property to allow contractors to enterThe caseworker then discovered that Mr N had self-disconnected from gas (he had electric and gas PAYG meters). Following calls to the energy supplier, the Caseworker was advised that Mr N had £666 debt, which they agreed to take off the meter and Mr N will pay this pack at £5pw.  They also put a loan credit of £35 on the gas meter so the caseworker could arrange for a trusted gas safe engineer to look at the boiler, paid for with Care & Repair Hardship funding, as the boiler wasn’t working due to it firing up without gas supply for months. The caseworker raised concerns with Council that Mr N would not be able to keep up with his gas supply payments. The Council recently contacted the Caseworker to say Mr N doesn’t have hot water again.


2.What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:

a) Passporting: Not already being in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, despite being eligible, and consequentially being prevented from accessing emergency support;

Pension Credit is a passporting benefit, allowing the recipient to benefit from reduced council tax, free TV licenses and more, as well as other qualifying financial assistance such as the cost-of-living payments. However, in order to receive Pension Credit, older people must proactively apply for it. According to estimates from Policy in Practice, there is an estimated £87million of unclaimed Pension Credit in Wales[4] that older people are entitled to. This equates to an additional passported benefit value of just under £700,000.

Care & Repair provide income maximisation support to clients in Wales, and have been successful in claiming an additional £8.4million for older people in 2021-2022.[5] However, there are significant challenges for many of our clients when it comes to applying for Pension Credit in order to access associated passported benefits. The knowledge surrounding Pension Credit is lower, with UK Government recently running a specific campaign with the aim of raising awareness and increasing applications of Pension Credit. This is a direct recommendation from a House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee report, published in March 2022[6]. Applications for Pension Credit can be done either on the telephone or online, both systems of which come with specific challenges for older or disabled people in terms of digital confidence, digital access or ability to use the telephone due to a disability such as hearing loss.

b) Cliff-edges: Not being in receipt of a certain means-tested benefit, because households failed to meet certain qualifying thresholds.


c) Qualifying period anomalies: issues relating to the timing of benefit payments;

We received multiple reports from caseworkers across Wales regarding delays to Pension Credit processing by DWP which led to missing out on qualifying cost-of-living support. This was most prevalent with the Welsh Winter Fuel Support Payment of £200, which had an application cut off date of 28 February.  Around this time, some of our clients were experiencing delays of up to 10 weeks for pension credit claims with the DWP. Even when pension credit applications that were successful and backdated to prior to 28 February, there was no way to receive for the Winter Fuel Support Payment despite the client being eligible.

If there are additional cost-of-living payments in future, it is vital that the UK and Welsh Government communicate well to mitigate these loopholes, and that there is flexibility within the payment application system to support cases such as these which effect a small but significant minority.

d) Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning


e) Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate?

Many of our clients have found challenges with regards to being confident in the support schemes that they have applied and been successful for. With people in Wales being eligible for both Welsh Government and UK Government support, there has often been confusion as to knowing which support a person has received. The Bevan Foundation’s Snapshot of Poverty: Summer 2022 showed the challenges with understanding the benefits and financial support available. They created a questionnaire for the public, and within their questionnaire they discovered that 14% of people claimed to have heard of a welfare scheme that in fact was fictitious and made up solely for the survey[7]. This means that there are clear challenges with deciphering each scheme, and therefore there is a possibility that eligible people may have missed out due to believing they have already received it.


3.How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost-of-living support?

The previous ad-hoc payment system has caused confusion among older people in understanding what they have already received, and may have caused them to miss out. We understand that the UK Government have addressed this with the most recent payments having been revised and for the payments to be granted in three separate times and with three separate amounts of £301, £300 and £299. This is to support people to identify which payments they have received and which payments to expect. We believe this is a better way of allocating the funding, and will aid people in keeping track of the support payments they have received.

4.Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?

The Republic of Ireland run a Household Benefit Package to anyone over the age of 70 years old[8]. This package provides support for their gas and electricity payments, and automatically covers the cost of the TV license as well, meaning it includes a passported benefit earlier than the UK’s Pension Credit system.

The Household Benefits Package is also non-means-tested, meaning that it is available to anyone over the age of 70 years old. In comparison, Pension Credit has strict income eligibility criteria, meaning that you are more likely to receive financial support if you are an elderly person in the Republic of Ireland than if you are in the UK.

New Zealand’s cost-of-living payment system’s eligibility criteria is also more flexible than that of the UK. In order to qualify in New Zealand, you must:

This was also an automatic payment into the accounts of those eligible, meaning that application to access the support was not necessary. Widening  eligibility means that a higher number of people living in the UK would have been eligible has this system been applied, as the median income for a UK household currently stands at £32,200 after tax[9]. However, the median income for the poorest fifth of the population decreased by 3.8% to £14,500 FTE in 2022.[10] In 2022, Joseph Rowntree Foundation research found that to achieve a minimum income standard, a single person needs to earn £25,500 a year, and a couple with two children needs to earn £43,400 between them.[11] Even with all UK Government support received, the average “most vulnerable” household received £1,200 in support last year,[12] bringing their total income far short of the JRF’s minimum income standard. .

Overall, although the cost-of-living support has been a lifeline to many households in the UK, the support is a sticking plaster over a much wider issue. The cost of living remains high in the UK and continued piecemeal emergency support by the UK and Welsh Governments is unsustainable. To truly support UK households, there should be emphasis on long-term housing condition and home energy efficiency improvements and green energy.



May 2023

[1] Campaign News – Disability Benefits Consortium

[2] Shopping prices comparison tool - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[3] Paying to be poor (bristol.ac.uk) (Page 66)

[4] Unclaimed Pension Credit: value by local authority - Policy in Practice

[5] Care & Repair Cymru Annual Report 2021-22 | Care & Repair (careandrepair.org.uk) (page 6)

[6] The Benefits System in Wales - Welsh Affairs Committee (parliament.uk)

[7] Snapshot-of-poverty-Summer-2022-Final.pdf (bevanfoundation.org) (page 15)

[8] gov.ie - Household Benefits Package (www.gov.ie)

[9] Average household income, UK - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[10] Average household income, UK - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[11] A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2022 | JRF

[12] Cost of living support factsheet: 26 May 2022 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)