16:46 Thursday 03 January 2013

Warm welcome for fuel benefit allowance cuts


PLANS to remove winter fuel benefits from well-off pensioners have won the support of a Burton-based elderly people&8217;s charity.

Rachel Coe, chief officer of the town&8217;s Age UK branch, said many pensioners did not need winter fuel allowance payments.

&8220;The money that&8217;s given to some better-off pensioners in winter fuel benefits could be better spent elsewhere,&8221; she said.

Miss Coe&8217;s claims came after former care services minister Paul Burstow proposed removing the universal allowance from at least three in four pensioners.

He suggested the money saved could be used to fund crucial reforms to the care industry. A system of means testing would be used instead to determine who kept the allowance, Liberal Democrat Mr Burstow said.

&8220;Most benefits are already means tested,&8221; Miss Coe told the Mail. &8220;We have a number of clients who get winter fuel payments but do not need them, so they donate the money so Age UK instead.

&8220;But there are people out there who do need this money and it should go to these people.&8221;

The winter fuel allowance is a one-off, tax-free payment of between &163;100 and &163;300 given to people aged over 60.

Last winter it was paid to 12.7 million people at a cost of &163;2.1 billion. Mr Burstow&8217;s proposals suggest giving the money to only 2.1 million of these people, saving &163;1.5 billion.

Miss Coe said: &8220;The Government could use the money that&8217;s saved to enhance care for the elderly because currently there&8217;s a huge gap in care.

&8220;Some people will be unhappy if this benefit is means tested and there are lots of people who need it to help them through the cold winter. But there are definitely people who receive it and do not need it and this money could be spent on other aspects of care.&8221;

Prime Minister David Cameron previously pledged to protect pensioners&8217; universal benefits, but his deputy, Nick Clegg, recently said it was time to &8216;look again&8217; at the issue as part of a discussion about growing care costs.

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