HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc244-5W
Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security which groups currently receive cold weather payments; which groups will receive the additional payments towards heating costs; what is the level of these payments for each group; and if she will make a statement. [20623]

Mr. Denham

People awarded Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance who have a pensioner or disability premium or have a child under five are eligible for Cold Weather Payments. A payment of £8.50 is made when the average temperature at a specified weather station has been recorded as, or is forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over 7 consecutive days.

The Government made a commitment to review the central areas of insecurity for older people and examine ways to deliver more automatic help to the poorest pensioners. Work is underway in both areas, but we are not prepared to allow another winter to go by when pensioners are fearful of turning up their heating because they do not know whether they will get the help they need with their fuel bills. We are also committed to tackling the wider problems associated with vulnerable people, especially the elderly, keeping warm during cold weather. We have already taken action to cut fuel costs and make homes easier to heat. So far we have: reduced VAT on domestic fuel from eight to five per cent.; reduced the gas levy to zero; extended energy efficiency grants and announced a reduction on VAT on energy saving installation schemes; announced the setting up of an Environmental Task Force which is expected to include a programme of energy efficiency improvements in the homes of the elderly; and, released almost £800 million to local authorities over the next two years to help meet pressing housing needs, which is expected to feature improved energy efficiency in many areas.

The additional help of £400 million over this winter and next, announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25 November 1997, Official Report, columns 773–98, demonstrates the Government's commitment to help the elderly keep warm in their homes. Further details were announced on 5 January.

People receiving Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, during the week commencing 5 January, where their benefit includes one of the pensioner premiums, will receive a Winter Fuel payment of £50. These payments should be made by the end of January.

People over State pension age (65 for men/60 for women) receiving one of the qualifying benefits during the week commencing 5 January will also receive a payment. The qualifying benefits are as follows: Attendance Allowance: Constant Attendance Allowance; Disability Living Allowance; Graduated Retirement Benefit; Incapacity Benefit; Industrial Death Benefit; Invalid Care Allowance; Retirement Pension; Severe Disablement Allowance; Unemployability Supplement; War Disablement Pension; Widow's Benefit or War Widow's Pension. These people will receive a payment of £20 or £10. Where there is only one eligible person in a household, or the eligible person is of no fixed abode, they will receive £20, otherwise each person will receive £10. It is estimated that over 3 million payments will be issued for £20 and almost 5 million for £10.

Overall, almost 10 million payments will be made to over 7 million pensioner households.

Regulations were laid on 8 January and will come into force on 16 January. Payments will be made automatically without the need to claim. They are in addition to any Cold Weather Payments which may also be due to those receiving Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance if there is a spell of very cold weather.

A publicity campaign is also being launched involving media advertising, posters and leaflets in conjunction with Help The Aged, Age Concern and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux so that pensioners are aware of what payments they will be receiving, how and when. This information will enable pensioners to heat their homes in confident in the knowledge that they will get extra help with their heaviest fuel bill.