HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 c17
17. Mr. Savidge

If she will make a statement on her plans to help pensioners with their fuel bills. [29091]

Mr. Denham

This is the first time any Government have been prepared to help all pensioner households with their winter fuel bills. A total of £400 million has been made available to provide extra help, for this winter and next, to all pensioner households. One and a half million pensioners on income support have already received a payment of £50; other pensioner households will receive £20. Almost 10 million payments will be made to more than 7 million pensioner households. The majority of payments should be made by the end of March.

Mr. Savidge

Northern Scotland will welcome all measures that reduce the misery of pensioners' going to bed unnaturally early for fear of fuel costs and the tragedy of cold-related illness and death. Will my hon. Friend consider what further steps can be taken to reduce the tragedy of that sort of suffering?

Mr. Denham

In addition to winter fuel payments, we have cut VAT on fuel and on materials used in Government-funded insulation programmes, we have abolished the gas levy, there is a review of utility regulation and an interdepartmental group is investigating fuel poverty. The winter fuel payments have been promised for this winter and next. The best approach is to take stock of that policy in the light of the other initiatives and reviews across the Government, including the pensions review, to find out the best long-term way to ensure that pensioners can always heat their homes in the winter.

Mr. Rendel

Will the Minister confirm that 80 per cent. of the extra winter fuel payments will be made in March or later, meaning that almost all pensioners will have to pay their winter fuel bills before they get the money?

Mr. Burns

It is a summer supplement.

Mr. Denham

This is the first time a Government have taken such action. Only in November was it clear that funds would be available for winter fuel payments. We have moved as swiftly as possible to make the payments. The majority will be made by the end of March. No other Government, including the Conservative Government of which the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who is muttering on the Front Bench, was a member, have taken such action to ensure that pensioners can heat their homes in the winter.