This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 4 December 1999
The text here may not be identical to the published text
By this weekend, more than seven million single pensioners and pensioner couples should have had £100 tax free from the government. The Department of Social Security told Money Go Round that the last payments should have gone out yesterday (Friday). If it meets this target, this year's Winter Fuel Payment is the first that will be paid before Christmas. And already some generous Daily Telegraph readers have decided to give their payment away.
The payment was introduced two years ago at £20 for most pensioners - £50 for those whose income and savings were low enough to get extra help through income support. But the Chancellor announced in his March budget that this winter the payment would be a standard £100 to all pensioner households. That means it is worth far more than the miserly increase in the retirement pension announced a month ago. The 75p rise in the weekly pension works out at just £39 over the whole year.
Last year, nearly 2000 generous Money Go Round readers decided that they did not need the winter fuel payment to keep warm and wanted the money to go to help pensioners who really did need it. The £35,000 they gave to the Daily Telegraph/Help the Aged Warm Hearts Appeal was spent helping thousands of pensioners keep warm. One of those who benefited was 73 year-old Elizabeth Hooper who lives on the Sussex coast.
"They gave me £25 which helped with my gas bills. I have central heating - I own this house and I had to spend £1571 on a new boiler which wiped out my savings. But I was afraid to put it on every day. I wasn't exactly cold but my hat was on in the house. I know it is important to keep warm and I have got used to wearing my hat and woolly coat indoors. So the £25 and the £20 from the Government were very useful towards the gas bill. I am surprised by the generosity of people who give their money back so someone like me can benefit from it."
With the payment increased to £100 The Daily Telegraph and Help the Aged hope to raise far more money and help even more people with their heating bills and keeping warm. Apart from some grants towards fuel bills, the money will be used to help older people insulate their homes and provide funds for hot meals in day centres. Help the Aged Director General Michael Lake said
"Despite the welcome increase in this year's payment, older people will still be anxious about keeping warm in the winter months ahead. Cold is a killer in this country. Warm Hearts is a wonderful example of a generation pulling together and supporting one another. Last year we were able to help thousands of vulnerable pensioners keep their homes warm. We know we can rely on Telegraph readers again this year."
The winter fuel payment is either sent by post or to the Post Office for some pensioners who collect their pension there. People whose pension is paid straight into a bank account will get the fuel payment paid direct too, but will also get a letter telling them it has been credited to their account. Arlene Bloomberg from Chester is in her sixties and has already had the payment and sent the money to Warm Hearts.
"I've sent the cheque off today. I checked on my bank electronically and I saw the £100 had been credited and I sent it to Help the Aged. I am fortunate enough not to need it but others need the money a lot more than I do. Last year when I got it I nearly sent it to Tony Blair but I wasn’t sure what he'd do with it. Then I read about the appeal in The Daily Telegraph and sent it straight off. So this year I've done the same again. I'm lucky, I run a successful business, a health club, with my daughter, son and daughter in law. We work hard but we live comfortably so I genuinely do not need the money for my own comfort. But I know there are so many who do."
The £100 payment is split in two for couples - £50 each - unless they are on income support when the husband will get £100. Other pensioners will get £100 each - or £50 if they share the address with other pensioners. The money will be paid even where the older person lives with younger people who pay the fuel bills. But it will not be paid to people in hospital for more than a year or to people who live in a residential care or nursing home who get Government help with their fees. Nor will it be paid to pensioners who live abroad. People who reached pension age after the qualifying date of 20 September will not get a winter fuel payment.
Anyone who wants to donate their winter fuel payment - or part of it - to the Warm Hearts Appeal should send a cheque payable to Help the Aged to Lisa Burton, Help the Aged, Freepost Lon 13041, PO Box 203, London EC1B IDG or ring the Warm Hearts appeal line on 0171 250 4481 weekday 8.30am to 5pm. Anyone with queries about the winter fuel payment can ring the Department of Social Security on 0645 15 15 15.
4 December 1999