Winter fuel payments 'may be cut'

Posted on: 18 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

The qualifying age for winter fuel payments could be raised under government plans to cut the welfare bill, it was reported on Wednesday.

Rather than being eligible for the annual handout at 60, people could have to wait until they are at least 66, the Daily Telegraph said, with talks apparently under way to impose an even bigger rise.

And the paper said the payment - worth £250 or £400 for the over-80s last winter - could be cut by £50 for new recipients and £100 for the oldest.

But a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said the story was "speculation", saying no decisions had yet been made ahead of the autumn's spending review and subsequent white paper on welfare reform.

The Times also suggested that winter fuel payments might be cut, perhaps along with child benefit and other universal allowances, as part of a £13 billion reduction that could be used to pay for radical welfare changes proposed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The spokeswoman said the DWP was "not going to provide a running commentary" on what was being considered.

Winter fuel payments, introduced in the winter of 1997, cost around £2.7 billion a year.

David Cameron pledged to keep the winter fuel allowance during the general election leaders' debates, but the Liberal Democrats campaigned on a platform of reforming the payment by raising the age-related threshold to 65 to extend them for severely disabled people. The coalition agreement pledges to "protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel payment", but does not rule out reform.

Chancellor George Osborne was challenged on whether winter fuel payments to older people would be protected at the same level as under Labour, replying: "The commitment on the winter fuel payments is there in the coalition agreement and was made during the election campaign and is there for all to see."

According to the Government's website Directgov, the qualifying age for winter fuel payments is already rising in line with the increase in women's state pension age - set to equalise at 65 by 2020. Ministers have proposed speeding up plans to raise the state pension age for men to 66, possibly by as early as 2016.

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