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Winter Fuel Payments

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 11 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what assessment his Department has made of the case for the extension of the winter fuel allowance to terminally ill people; (156722)

(2) what estimate his Department has made of the likely cost of extending the winter fuel allowance to terminally ill people.

The structure of the scheme, which provides an annual lump sum payment, is not appropriate for the needs of terminally ill people. Entitlement is based on a person’s circumstances in a qualifying week which is the third full week in September. The process to establish entitlement then takes a further six weeks and payments are made in November and December. This ensures that older people are confident that they will be able to afford the heating that they use in the coldest part of the year. The extra heating needs of terminally ill people can arise at any time of year, not just in the winter months. Help is available for terminally ill people through the care and mobility components in disability living allowance and the disability premiums in the income- related benefits which have a substantially higher annual value and are spread over a 52 week period.

People who are terminally ill can receive the highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance without having to serve the three months qualifying period and the benefit is usually paid within 10 days from the time the claim is received. Most people who qualify for the highest rate disability living allowance care component under these special rules also qualify for the highest rate disability living allowance mobility component. Also, where a disability premium is paid in an income related benefit, a cold weather payment is payable in periods of very cold weather. Together, these payments are designed to meet the extra costs, including heating, of terminally ill people.

The annual cost of extending winter fuel payments to people aged under 60 receiving disability living allowance under the special rules related to a terminal illness is estimated at approximately £6 million.