HC Deb 18 December 2000 vol 360 cc6-7
5. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

What steps the Government are taking to reduce fuel poverty. [141805]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

We are developing a comprehensive strategy to tackle fuel poverty. The winter fuel payment makes an important contribution. For this winter only, we have increased the amount to £200—double the amount paid last winter.

Mr. Bennett

May I assure my hon. Friend that the pensioners in Denton and Reddish are delighted with the £200? However, will he address two particular problems? First, some pensioners are reluctant to spend that money on heating and still live in houses that are inadequately heated. Spending the money on heating will improve the quality of their life no end, so will he plead with them to do so? Secondly, is he aware that too many pensioners still live in houses that are heating the neighbourhood, and that he needs to work very hard to promote the Government's home energy saving scheme?

Mr. Bayley

I thank my hon. Friend for those questions. Eliminating fuel poverty is important, and more needs to be done. The Government will soon publish their strategy on fuel poverty, which will address the issues raised by my hon. Friend. The reason why a one-off payment is made at the start of winter is precisely to encourage people to use it for the purpose of heating. It would be far less likely that the money would be spent on heating if the winter fuel allowance were abolished, or paid in weekly instalments.

The old home energy efficiency scheme provided grants of up to £315 per household; the new scheme, which we introduced in June, can make payments of up to £1,000 per household and £2,000 for households with people aged over 60. That is a substantial improvement. By 2004, the new HEES budget will be £600 million and the scheme will be helping 800,000 vulnerable households—more than half of which will be pensioner households.