HC Deb 18 December 2000 vol 360 cc5-6
4. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

How many pensioners in Warrington, North are receiving the winter fuel allowance. [141804]

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Our latest information is that around 11 million payments have already been issued for this winter, 16,300 of which have been made to those entitled in Warrington, North.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that pensioners in my constituency are very grateful for the ability to turn up their heating without worrying about the bills in winter? In the light of that, can he assure me that all eligible pensioners will receive their cheques before Christmas? Can he also tell the House what assessment he has made of the imp let on the health and well-being of pensioners if the Opposition were ever in a position to withdraw the winter fuel allowance?

Mr. Darling

Everyone who has received a winter fuel payment in previous years should now have received their winter fuel payment. People who need to claim will also get their money by Christmas if they claimed by the beginning of November. We are still looking at the claims of a small number of people who have claimed since that time, and they will be paid early in the new year.

As for the health of pensioners in the future, most Labour Members recognise the very real problem of fuel poverty, particularly among pensioners, that we inherited. When people judge the political parties, whenever the election comes, they will wonder at the Conservatives, who are making it clear that they will give less money to poor people and that there will be no Christmas bonus, no reward for saving, no free television licence and no winter fuel payment. That sounds like a remarkable manifesto—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I make a request to the Secretary of State not to talk about Conservative policy? It is his policy that I am interested in hearing.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Is the right hon. Gentleman genuinely satisfied that all backdated winter fuel payments to people in the Warrington, North constituency have now been received? In reflecting on his answer, is he conscious that on 11 April he said that all backdated payments would be made as soon as possible; that on 20 July, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), said that they would all be made by the end of September; and that on 13 November, the hon. Lady said that the target date for ensuring that those backdated payments would be made was the end of March 2001, although she could not be certain that that target would be met? In the light of that, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he will get his act together? Secondly, can he offer us some indication of which will arrive first: the backdated winter fuel payments that are due or Billy Bunter's postal order?

Mr. Darling

If the hon. Gentleman had his way, those payments would never arrive at all, because he wants to get rid of them. As I have just told my hon. Friend, all those who have received winter fuel payments in previous years should now have received them because they were sent out in good time for Christmas. The only people who needed to apply were men aged between 60 and 65, whose addresses the Department of Social Security does not necessarily have because there is no obligation on men of that age to tell the DSS where they live.

All those who made their claims before the beginning of November should now have received their payment. A small minority of people applied after that time; their claims have to be processed, and we want to make those payments as soon as possible. We are anxious to ensure that all those who are entitled to this year's winter fuel payment of £200 get it. The payment is having a big impact on pensioners—something upon which the hon. Gentleman might care to reflect.

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