Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice
Today is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day. A day that is even more pertinent given the cost of living crisis so many people are facing. I am proud that this Welsh Government is taking action to support those struggling this winter. On 16 November I announced a Winter Fuel Support Scheme. This is a £38 million fund to support households with their energy costs. It provides households where one member is in receipt of certain welfare benefits with a one-off payment of £100. We are also making support available through our Discretionary Assistance Fund to help off-grid households with the cost of oil and liquid gas.
The Welsh Government has taken these steps because households are under increasing financial pressure as we enter the winter months. An increase of more than £230 in domestic fuel bills this year alone has been passed on to Welsh citizens and further increases are expected in April when the Ofgem domestic energy price cap is reviewed. Welsh Ministers and this Senedd have made it abundantly clear, the UK Government must take steps to ensure lower income households are not further impacted by policy decisions that have taken money from families who need it most. Through the pandemic we have seen more people working from home, increasing their energy demand for heat, light and power, making a bad situation worse. This is a cost of living crisis and the UK Government cannot continue to turn a blind eye.
We continue to meet regularly with Ofgem, at both Ministerial and official level, to keep the pressure on domestic energy suppliers to support vulnerable and lower income households struggling with their household energy bills. We will continue to do so. Excess winter deaths remain high in Wales, with an estimated 2,000 excess winter deaths last year, an increase from the year before. Too many households in Wales still struggle to meet the cost of keeping their home warm during the winter months. Failing to properly address this crisis has very real ramifications for hard pressed families as media reporting this week has clearly illustrated.
On this Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, I am therefore publishing our cold weather resilience plan. It sets out the actions we are taking, in collaboration with our partners, to safeguard vulnerable and lower income households during periods of cold weather. Working in partnership is key to unlocking the challenges of fuel poverty, and I am particularly grateful for the efforts of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel and wider stakeholders, who have worked with us to prepare this plan and who help us to make a real difference to people most in need of help.
The cold weather resilience plan sets out actions we are taking, working with partners to better co-ordinate advice and support services to vulnerable and lower income households, reducing the risk of avoidable ill health resulting from living in a cold home. We want to ensure benefits and entitlements are claimed by those who are eligible and in need. We will also supply emergency assistance payments and, of course, help low income householders maintain and improve the heat efficiency of their homes through the Warm Homes Programme.
We know this is going to be a challenging winter for many households and families, who will struggle to maintain warm and healthy homes. Further measures will be needed and we will continue to press the case with UK Government, as well as consulting on the future of our own Warm Homes Programme. The consultation is expected to start no later than the end of this month. The Welsh Government remains committed to doing all we can to support those most in need.