Thousands of Scots could lose out on lifeline support during the winter, as a new scheme would have short-changed up to 65,000 struggling households had it been in place in 2020/21, Scottish Labour has claimed.
The lifeline Cold Weather Payments will be replaced with a new devolved Scottish version, which pays out a fixed sum every year instead of paying out based on temperature.
Under the new Winter Heating Payment scheme, eligible households are automatically awarded a £50 payment.
Unlike the previous Cold Weather Payment, operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, the Scottish Government system does not need temperatures to fall below a certain level before payments are made.
The new payment comes as energy prices soar and the cost of living piles pressure on households.
The scheme has been criticised for being less targeted than the previous payments, with charities like Energy Action Scotland branding the situation “potentially catastrophic”.
New analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre estimated that if this model were in place in 2020/21 more than 65,000 households could have received less.
This includes an estimated 17,000 households receiving more than £100 less, and around 51,000 households getting more than £75 less.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre however said its figures “give an indication of scale rather than providing reliable specific figures”.
Commenting, Scottish Labour social justice and social security spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “This disastrous new scheme risks leaving thousands of Scots out of pocket this winter.
“It is unthinkable to plough ahead with these dangerous changes as bills soar, temperatures drop and people are facing the impossible choice between heating and eating.
“This raid on the budgets of the most vulnerable goes against everything Scotland’s social security system was supposed to stand for.
“The SNP need to set out an emergency plan to stop people missing out on lifeline payments as the cold weather bites this winter.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our new Winter Heating Payment will provide a reliable £50 payment each year to around 400,000 people on low-incomes to help with their heating expenses every winter.
“This means we will invest around £20m every year, compared with an average of £8.3m per year over the last seven years (2015/16 – 2021/22) from the UK Government, which on average supported just 185,000 people a year with Cold Weather Payments over the same period.
“By making the changes we have we are guaranteeing everyone eligible will receive a payment every year, rather than the UK Government approach of requiring the weather being sufficiently cold for a sustained period of time.”