This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 5 February 2000
The text here may not be identical to the published text

Allowances must be made on DSS payment promises

What does it really mean when a Minister says that everyone aged over 60 will get winter fuel benefits?


The Government has confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that 280,000 people aged 60 or more living in residential care or nursing homes will NOT get the £100 winter fuel payment despite statements by the Minister of State for Social Security that ‘everyone’ over 60 and in the UK would now be entitled.

Jeff Rooker – the second most important Minister in the Department of Social Security – told MPs earlier this month

"everyone who is ordinarily resident in Great Britain and aged over 60 is eligible."

He was replying to his Labour colleague Helen Jones MP on January 10th during Social Security Questions and moments later he confirmed to Tory MP Anne McIntosh

"Everyone aged over 60 who is ordinarily resident in this country is eligible, whether they work or not."

Mr Rooker was answering questions about what action the Government was taking following a European Court of Justice ruling that the Government could not discriminate against men by denying them the payment until the age of 65 – women get it at 60. As a result of that judgement in favour of retired postman John Taylor in December 1999 the Government had to stop linking the payment to retirement pension and simply pay it to those who were aged 60 or more. But it has not stated publicly that large numbers of people are still excluded from the payment.

In a press release published on December 17, the Department announced that "help through winter fuel payments will be extended to everyone aged 60 and over, regardless of whether they are claiming a pension."

As with many things from the Department of Social Security, words do not always mean what they appear to. Although an extra 1.5 million people became eligible for the payment after the court ruling, by no means ‘everyone’ over 60 can get it.

· Does ‘everyone’ include the 870,000 pensioners living abroad?

No. They are not ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK and so cannot get the payment.


· Does ‘everyone’ include the people who live in a residential care or nursing home?

Partly. The 280,000 who claim some help from the state through income support are NOT eligible. The remainder – perhaps another 220,000 – should get the payment at the rate of £50 paid to those who share accommodation with other over 60s.


· Does ‘everyone’ include those who have been in hospital for more than 12 months?

No. They are excluded.


· Does ‘everyone’ include the estimated 1,000 people over 60 in prison?

No. They are not entitled to any social security benefits.


· Is ‘everyone’ else who is currently over 60 eligible?

No. You had to be 60 by a certain date to qualify. The Benefits Agency is looking at exactly what that date will be. But it will be in the week of 20 September 1999.


· Does ‘everyone’ get £100?

No. The payment is supposed to be per household containing a pensioner. So if there is one pensioner in a household they get £100. But if there are two, such as a married couple, they each get £50. However, if there are more than two pensioners in a household they all get £50 each.

So married men who become eligible will get £50 – but that could mean some couples end up with £150. Where the wife was aged 60 or more and claiming a pension on 20 September last year but her husband was under 65, she will have had her £100. As a result of the European court ruling her husband now becomes eligible too. Under the rules they should get £50 each – so she has had £50 too much and he has had £50 too little. He can now claim his £50. But the Benefits Agency will NOT be seeking to recover the £50 overpayment to his wife. Indeed, lawyers say they have no right to do so.

No wonder Jeff Rooker was confused.

The biggest group of people who have become eligible for this year’s payment are the 1.2 million men aged 60 to 64 who do not get a retirement pension. But another 300,000 women and older men will also qualify. They are people over pension age who do not draw a retirement pension because

· they had deferred it – which can be done for up to five years to get a bigger pension when it is claimed, or

· they had simply not claimed their pension, or

· they had not paid enough National Insurance Contributions to qualify for a pension.

Another 400,000 people who already qualify for this year’s payment will now also be able to get a payment for 1998 or 1997 – or both. The payment in those years was £20 and the qualifying dates were the week of November 9 1998 and January 5 1998. – the exact qualifying date has not yet been decided. Anyone aged 60 or more by those weeks who did not get a payment then, should now get one – unless they are in an excluded group.

The problem with almost all of these 1.9 million people who can now get a winter fuel payment is that they do not claim a pension and are not known to the Department of Social Security. A spokeswoman has confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that the Benefits Agency still does know how to identify them.

"The Benefits Agency is working on this and other operational issues to consider the best way to deliver future and back payments and a further statement will be issued. It will be necessary to identify them. There will be an advertising campaign. It will be announced when plans are more advanced."

Until then the Department of Social Security says anyone who thinks they have a claim should sit tight and await an announcement.

5 February 2000

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