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Healing Allowance

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps she is taking to ensure that those supplementary pensioners who would be entitled to extra heating allowance do in fact receive it, in view of the risk of hypothermia amongst elderly people who cannot afford adequate heating.

I have discussed this matter with the Supplementary Benefits Commission and I understand that a variety of practical measures is being taken to ensure that those who are entitled to extra heating additions do receive them.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is hardly an answer to refer to a variety of measures. I think that the House will be interested to know of what that variety consists. Will my hon. Friend take into account that there are reliable estimates, such as that of Coventry's social services department, which indicate that about 70 per cent. of those who may be entitled to heating allowances are not even aware of the fact? It is intolerable that people should die of cold without receiving allowances which the House has already agreed. Will my hon. Friend specifically instruct his officials that all new supplementary pensioners must have the heating allowance explained to them, and that this must be done at regular intervals, so that no one suffers through ignorance?

No one would want any supplementary old-age pensioner to suffer from hypothermia. It is unfair of my hon. Friend to suggest that nothing is being done. I can tell her that we have the usual annual review. That is one item. Over the past two years a physical examination of all existing claims has been undertaken and domiciliary visits have been arranged when considered appropriate. A special leaflet entitled "Help with Heating Costs" was published and issued to a wide variety of statutory and voluntary organisations. The Department's regional information officers have been active in ensuring that all people interested are aware of the criteria for awarding heating allowances. We published the criteria in the Pensioners Voice. That is the newspaper of the old-age pensioner organisations. I think it is fair to say that I have justified my claim that a variety of practical steps has been taken. If my hon. Friend can think of any further steps we shall be only too pleased to consider them.

Does the Minister agree that pensioners who are also householders have special needs and should have a special householder's allowance?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is chasing another hare on this issue, which I am sure he will pursue on another occasion.