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Fuel Debts

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about the agreement, operative from March 1976, between his Department and the gas and electricity authorities, regarding payment on behalf of social security claimants in respect of debts accumulated for fuel, which have not been paid off; and what estimate he has made of the total amount his Department will be liable for, on behalf of social security claimants, in March 1978, when they have undertaken to repay all outstanding fuel debts by claimants.

Under the terms of the agreement, a payment to clear the outstanding debt in an individual case will be considered only when deductions from benefit have been made for a period of two years. The cost will therefore fall over a period beginning two years after the first cases were taken on under this agreement. No reliable estimate of the cost can be made, since it will be affected by, among other things, how closely the claimant's actual consumption has matched that estimated and what proportion of claimants affected remain in receipt of benefit for two years.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether, despite the agreement between his Department and the fuel authorities of March 1976, to pay off fuel debts of social security claimants, either by a certain amount a week from his Department to the relevant authority, or by a lump sum for debts still outstanding in March 1978, his Department does in certain circumstances, pay off fuel debts by means of an exceptional needs payment, if necessary, of over £100.

The agreement with the fuel authorities was not intended to lead, and has not led, to the discontinuation of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's practice of making payments for fuel debts in exceptional circumstances—for example, where the claimant has spent money saved for fuel on some other immediate need for which the Supplementary Benefit Commission would have made a payment; where the claimant has recently started to use a new form of heating and has yet to become accustomed to the controls and the costs; where there has been a period of exceptionally severe weather; or whether a need for extra heating justifying an addition to weekly benefit has not come to light.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what action his Department is taking to settle the fuel bill of a Birmingham couple whose fuel bill arrears amounted to £1,122.