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Winter Fuel Payments

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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How many pensioners in Scotland will benefit from the £300 winter fuel payment for the over-80s. [113326]

We estimate that around 200,000 pensioners in Scotland will benefit from the £100 additional payment attached to the winter fuel payment.

All our Government's measures to help people cope with winter cold are particularly welcome in northern Scotland. Does my hon. Friend consider that those central Government policies will be valuably supplemented by the plans of the recently re-elected Labour-led Scottish Executive to extend free central heating to pensioners?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The partnership of the UK-wide winter fuel payment and the implementation of local initiatives, such as the warm homes initiative, has made a difference to people in Scotland, especially pensioners, hence the Labour-led Administration in Holyrood.

The increase in winter fuel payments for pensioners will be most welcome if they are received on time. In that regard, is the Minister aware of the complete shambles that accompanied the introduction of the working tax credit and the hardship that that caused? What assurance can she give Scottish pensioners that winter fuel payments will not suffer from the same bureaucratic incompetence and create similar hardship?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that winter fuel payments are going into their sixth season, if I can put it that way. As far as I am aware, there have been no major difficulties with their distribution. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has addressed some of the issues in relation to the transfer to the new working tax credit.

The March report for 2001–02 stated that there are £4.5 billion of unclaimed benefits in the UK, £500 million of which are in Scotland. Of the 11 most deprived areas in the UK, four are in Glasgow. Will the Minister approach the Chancellor to ring-fence all that unclaimed benefit so that it can be given to the poor?

My hon. Friend is well aware that the Government have never hidden benefits under a bushel, but have advertised them and encouraged people to pick up their benefits. The Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have consistently made it obvious that we want people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. I appeal again to the 71 Members of Parliament, each of whom is considered to be a leader in their community, to ensure that as much publicity as possible is given to benefit take-up, complementing the work done by the DWP and the Treasury.