HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc324-5W
Mr. Webb

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many pensioner households qualify for the 1999 winter fuel payment; and how many of those households had received this payment by 6 December; [102636]

(2) what plans are in place to ensure that households qualifying for the 1999 winter fuel payment receive it on, or before, 15 December. [102637]

Angela Eagle

To ensure that pensioners received their winter fuel payment before Christmas, those eligible were identified during the week commencing 20 September. Over 7.5 million pensioner households qualified for winter fuel payments this winter. By 6 December all those households should have been issued with a winter fuel payment. However, in case some pensioners may not have received their payment, a national and regional press advertising campaign was run from 9 to 15 December inclusive. This advised pensioners that they could ring the National Winter Fuel Payment Helpline with any concerns that they had about their payment.

Mr. Fearn

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security for what reasons the cut-off date for eligibility to receive the winter fuel allowance has been set at 12 September 1999. [102682]

Angela Eagle

In order to make Winter Fuel Payments automatically, without incurring disproportionate administration costs, it is necessary to identify those in receipt of qualifying benefits through official departmental computer records. Therefore, entitlement is based on being in receipt of one of the qualifying Social Security benefits for at least a day during a specified qualifying week.

The process of identification and determination of the amount payable takes around 10 weeks, therefore to ensure receipt of the payments before Christmas the qualifying week chosen for this winter was the week beginning 20 September. If the qualifying period was extended or a later week used, the exercise would not have been completed in time for payments to be made before Christmas.

Mr. Ruane

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners have received the £100 cold weather payment in each constituency in the last year. [102595]

Angela Eagle

The information requested is expected to be available in the new year.

Mrs. Gilroy

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on winter fuel payments following the judgment made by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Taylor. [103839]

Mr. Darling

In 1997, we decided to make Winter Fuel Payments payable to elderly people in receipt of qualifying benefits—principally Retirement Pension. We did this because this meant that payments could be made quickly, automatically and at the right time.

Following the Court's judgment in the Taylor case, help through Winter Fuel Payments will be extended to everyone aged 60 and over, regardless of whether they are claiming a pension or are on another qualifying benefit.

By equalising the age of entitlement for Winter Fuel Payments at 60 for men and women, the number of people who will benefit will increase by up to 1.5 million. This will have an estimated annual programme cost of £85 million. It will mean that next winter, up to 11.5 million people in up to 8.5 million households will benefit from these payments.

In line with the judgment, the Government will also make backdated payments to the start of the scheme for up to 1.9 million people. This will have an estimated one-off programme cost of £125 million.

The age of entitlement for Winter Fuel Payments will initially be set at 60. Thereafter, however, it will move in step with entitlement for State Retirement Pension. It will therefore start to rise in 2010 and reach 65 in 2020.

We will need to find out the names and addresses of the people who are newly eligible for these payments. As the information we hold may not be up to date, we will therefore need to introduce a claims process for Winter Fuel Payments. This process will need to be developed carefully and appropriate IT systems built to deal with claims.

There is no need for people newly eligible for Winter Fuel Payments to contact the Benefits Agency now. A further announcement will be made early next year to advise people how to claim.