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Severe Weather Payments

Volume 124: debated on Monday 14 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will list, with dates and affected DHSS offices, the meteorological stations at which average weekly temperatures have reached the trigger point for exceptionally severe weather payments during November and December; and if he will detail the steps taken to make this information public.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on which areas of the United Kingdom have so far qualified for severe weather payments during December.

One weather station, Fort William, recorded an average weekly temperature below 0 deg Celsius during the week beginning 30 November. This weather station is linked to the Department's offices at Fort William and Oban. Arrangements are in hand to publicise through the local media and local advice centres the availability of exceptionally cold weather payments in the areas covered by these local offices.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if, in the light of the current winter's experience, he will reconsider the appropriateness of the current divisional boundaries between and jurisdictional territories of the Inverness and Fort William offices of his Department respectively, in so far as the eligibility to cold weather payments for claimants living within Skye and Lochalsh district is concerned; and if he will make a statement;(2) if, in the light of the current winter's experience, he will reconsider the appropriateness of the location of the temperature monitoring stations at Kinloss as the trigger point for eligibility to cold weather payments processed through the Inverness office of his Department; and if he will make a statement.

Weather stations have been linked to local office areas in consultation with the Meteorological Office, taking account of factors such as climatological conditions, the reliability of information produced and the speed with which information could be passed on to the Meteorological Office. The Kinloss and Fort William weather stations were chosen to be linked to the Department's local offices of Inverness and Fort William respectively because they were considered to be representative of the climate for the main centres of population in each of these local office areas.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if, in the light of the current winter's experience of the operation of the cold weather payment scheme, he will reconsider (a) the siting of temperature monitoring stations, particularly those located on or near the coast, (b) the commencement of the qualifying period of seven days from Monday running through until the following Sunday and (c) the obligation on eligible claimants to claim such payments by application; and if he will make a statement.

(a) Weather stations have been linked to local office areas in consultation with the Meteorological Office, taking account of factors such as climatological conditions, the reliability of information produced and the speed with which information could be passed on to the Meteorological Office.

(b) A fixed seven-day period (Monday to Sunday) was chosen because it is easy to understand and straightforward to operate.

(c) Exceptionally cold weather payments are single payments of supplementary benefit. The normal position is that such payments have to be claimed. 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. The relevant regulations were laid before the House on 26 November.

We shall be reviewing the exceptionally cold weather provision next year in the light of this winter's experience.