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Cold Weather Payments

Volume 487: debated on Monday 2 February 2009

The cold weather payment scheme is reviewed every year, normally in the summer. We consider the suitability of postcode to weather station links, and the effect of any changes to the postcode system made by the Royal Mail. Given today’s inclement weather, I hope that you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, to say that £165 million has been paid under the scheme so far this winter, including £16.7 million today to 668,000 people.

That is all very well, but hundreds of my constituents have been and are being deprived of cold weather payments, to which they should be entitled, especially in upland areas, because of the way in which the temperature is measured. For example, the temperature for Dartmoor is measured in the centre of Plymouth, where it can be between three and five degrees higher. Will the Under-Secretary take steps to review the method of measuring the temperature so that people in upland areas in Dartmoor can receive their cold weather payments?

We take the professional advice of the Met Office in determining which postcodes are linked to which weather station. As I said previously, if the hon. Gentleman wants to make representations on behalf of his constituency, they will be taken into account. I will look into the matter that he has raised.

Will the Under-Secretary reassure Labour Members that she will not revert to the sort of advice given by the former hon. Member for Salmonella and South Derbyshire in a previous Government: that older people should knit woolly hats? Does she agree that any action that we take should be tangible and well thought out, not specious and patronising nonsense, which probably damaged the woollen hat industry in my hon. Friend’s part of the world?

Indeed. My hon. Friend’s point speaks for itself. We are providing real help, which is why the cold weather payment increased from £8.50 to £25 this winter—I presume that that increase would not happen under a Conservative Government, since Conservative Members voted against it.

Does the Minister not accept that many elderly and retired people are very responsible and thrifty, and although they might benefit from a cold weather payment, they will hesitate to turn up their heating to give them an acceptable quality of life during a very cold spell such as today and, therefore, could well suffer from hypothermia? Is there any way—perhaps by following the suggestion from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox)—that one could re-examine the way that cold weather payments are met, taking account of the responsible and thrifty people who comprise a majority of our retired people?

We are looking at improving the communication available to people as to whether they will be eligible. Everybody on pension credit as well as other low income groups will be eligible, even if the forecast rather than the actuality is an average of less than 0º C over a seven-day period. People can therefore act with confidence in the knowledge that they will get their payments quickly and in time for their next bill when it lands on their doorstep.

My hon. Friend is aware that pensioners are afraid to put on their heating because of the high energy prices, but we must remember that huge profits are being made by the energy companies. Has she considered having conversations with the energy companies to see whether they will pass on some of their money to pensioners, rather than keeping the immoral profits? Let us see if we can ring-fence those profits and bring them back to pensioners through vouchers.

My hon. Friend knows that that is rightly not a matter for our Department, but I agree with the point that he makes. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friends managed to negotiate the social tariff. I urge all energy companies to ensure that they pass on information about the availability of that to all their customers who may be eligible.