§ Mr. Scott
The current arrangements, based on clear criteria, can be expected to give extra help more often and more quickly to those most at risk from the cold than any previous systems since the scheme was first put on a regulated basis in 1980. Last winter, we estimate that over 950,000 people received help, more than twice as many as in any previous year. The total cost of benefit paid was £10.2 million.
For this winter we plan to make it easier for claimants to get help during repeat periods of exceptionally cold weather. We intend to provide that, where a successful claim is made in respect of one period of exceptionally cold weather, that claim will remain valid in respect of subsequent periods of cold weather during the winter. At the same time, we will be correcting a number of technical errors in the description of areas covered by particular weather stations. This will not change the links between local offices and weather stations themselves. Regulations to make these changes will be laid before the House shortly.
These arrangements will apply for the coming winter. For subsequent winters, the Social Security Bill proposes an amendment to the Social Security Act 1986 to provide for help to be given towards the cost of heating in cold weather when single payments have been abolished, and replaced by loans and grants from the social fund. This help with heating will be regulated, and paid as of right in a similar way to the arrangements for maternity and funeral payments within the social fund. This amendment provides reassurance that help will continue to be available following the social security reforms next April.