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Winter Fuel Allowance

Volume 516: debated on Monday 18 October 2010

5. What plans he has to amend the eligibility criteria for winter fuel allowance; and if he will make a statement. (17485)

In winter 2010, the winter fuel payment will continue to be paid at the higher rate of £250 or £400, according to family circumstances. Decisions about the rates for future winters will be taken as part of the annual Budget cycle, as normal.

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the cold weather payments. The rate of cold weather payment will be announced on Wednesday in the comprehensive spending review. As the House knows, for the first 11 years of the previous Administration, the cold weather payment was frozen at £8.50 and, although it was increased to £25 for two years in the run-up to the election, the previous Administration made no financial provision at all to keep it at £25.

According to the National Pensioners Convention, 36,700 older people died of cold-related illnesses last year. Will my hon. Friend’s Department work with the Department of Health and redouble efforts to reduce that unacceptably high number?

My hon. Friend is right. Excess winter deaths are a scandal. That requires work across Departments, as well as our commitment to the winter fuel payment and the cold weather payment system. We are working with our colleagues not just in the Department of Health, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change, because proper home insulation is a key to tackling excess winter deaths.

Last week the Prime Minister said he stood by the pledge that he made during the election about retaining the winter fuel allowance. I note with interest the answer given by the Minister. Will he confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that everyone who is today entitled to the winter fuel allowance will still be entitled to it on Thursday?

I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, but I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the wording of the coalition agreement, where we say that we are committed to protecting the winter fuel payment.