Two in three of Scotland's most vulnerable are missing out on vital financial help to pull them out of fuel poverty - because of the "confusing" nature of the government energy bills discount scheme.

While the UK government's Warm Home Discount scheme (WHD) is seen as vital new research has revealed that it is failing to help significant numbers of people in Scotland who are in fuel poverty.

The WHD scheme, which was first introduced in 2011, is intended to target money to people on low incomes to help them pay their fuel bills. The rate for 2020/21 is a one-off payment of £140.

However, research published today in Citizens' Advice Scotland's Mind the Fuel Poverty Gap report has found that, while those who receive the WHD rely on this to afford their bills, too many people who are eligible for it are not receiving it.

The discount, seen as a financial lifeline for elderly people, needs action from those eligible to secure it - but the report suggest the system is too complex, with not all suppliers offering the discount.

THe CAS say an estimated 29-32% of Scottish households are eligible for WHD, but only 9.3% currently claim it. This suggests that over two thirds are missing out on vital help.

The publication of the research comes as several suppliers open for applications to the scheme including E.ON, npower, Scottish Power, Utility Warehouse and Utilita.

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Commenting on the report, CAS Fair Markets spokesman Kate Morrison said: "The Warm Home Discount, in principle, is a very good scheme. Where the money actually gets to the people who need it, our research finds that it is greatly appreciated and helps those families stay warm without putting them in financial difficulty.

"The problem our report identifies - and this is backed up by the experience of Citizens' Advice advisers across Scotland - is that too many of the households who need this kind of help are not receiving the WHD. We believe that suppliers could do more in the way of application assistance for households in vulnerable situations.

"We want to be clear that we think it is absolutely critical that the WHD fund is maintained, but there needs to be more efforts made to ensure that people who need this support actually get it. Every household in Scotland pays towards this fund through their bills, including those in fuel poverty, so a one third success rate is clearly not acceptable, and nor is that fact that families across Scotland are suffering the cold or going into debt to keep the heating on when they don't need to.

The Warm Home Discount is a support scheme aimed at households who may struggle to pay their energy bills and is due to run until 2021.

It's a one-off £140 discount winter energy bills - but instead of being paid directly to households, it's automatically deducted from bills over the winter months between September and March.

Households can also qualify for an energy rebate with all payments for last winter paid by March 31, 2020. Rebates for this winter would be expected in April 2021.

For some who qualify as a Core customer they will receive a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions by December 7.

The Core group are those who on July 9, 2017, receive the Guarantee Credit and/or Savings Credit element of Pension Credit Anyone else can apply for what is described as the Broader group discount through energy suppliers.

Ms Morrison said the number of applicants to the Broader gropu tends to exceeds the number of rebates that can be paid, so households miss out. An increase in funding would alleviate the issue, she said.

"Application windows and eligibility criteria vary between participating suppliers, which is confusing for consumers. Evidence from our network has shown that digital exclusion is a particular concern. CAS believes that suppliers could do more in terms of application assistance for households in vulnerable situations, to make sure they are able to apply," she said.

"Specifically in the Scottish context, CAS believes that there needs to be a better alignment of WHD eligibility with how fuel poverty is defined, to ensure that the households most in need of support are being reached. We are calling for a redesign on this basis once the immediate future of the scheme is secured."

She added: “Fuel poverty support payments are vital for those struggling with their bills but in the longer term this scheme needs to be redesigned to ensure that it is targeted to reach everyone it needs to.

"We have shared the report with the UK government and with energy providers, and we hope they will re-double their efforts to make sure all consumers know that this assistance is available. We also hope that by publishing our research today, we will help make consumers aware of the WHD and claim it. Nearly one third of all Scottish households could claim WHD, so it is worth seeking out."