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What is the winter fuel payment and how will it change?

Laura Suter
Winter fuel allowances have been paid to pensioners in the UK, regardless of their income

The winter fuel payment has always been controversial. The universal benefit sees millions of elderly people given as much as £300 a year by the Government to help pay heating bills. 

However, unlike many benefits, the winter fuel payment is not means tested. Anyone is entitled to the allowance as long as they were born on or before May 5 1953 (this date changes every year) and lived in Britain through the week of September 19-25 2016.

Baroness Joan Bakewell, the journalist and Labour party peer, famously said wealthy pensioners should donate their winter fuel allowance to charity. In 2010 she told The Telegraph that she had tried to send her payment back - but "they wouldn't have it."

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Here we explain in detail how the payment works and what is likely to change if the Conservatives are elected.

What is the winter fuel payment?

The winter fuel payment, introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997, gives between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay your heating bills if you were born on or before 5 May 1953.

The payment is made automatically each year in November or December. However, you may need to register if you are not receiving it and believe that you are eligible.

How much do I get?

The amount you get depends on your circumstances during the "qualifying week", which is set each year (for payments in the 2016-17 winter it was September 19-25 2016). 

Most people under the age of 80 will get £200 if they live alone, or £100 if they live with someone who is eligible for the payment. This rises to £300 for those over the age of 80 in the qualifying week, or £150 if they live with someone over the age of 80 who is eligible.

How much will I get in winter fuel payment?

I live abroad. Do I get the payment?

Those pensioners who split their time between Britain and another country may still get the winter fuel allowance. If you live in Switzerland or a European Economic Area country (which includes all EU nations) and you have a "genuine link" with the UK you will be eligible.

The Government will not pay it to anyone who lives in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal or Spain because the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest region of Britain.

I can afford my fuel bills. Can I refuse the money?

Some people who have healthy incomes feel they should not receive the winter fuel payment. However, there isn't any way to simply refuse the payment, as Joan Bakewell discovered. Instead, you could donate the money to charity. 

What do the Tories plan to change?

The Conservative manifesto will set out plans to begin means-testing the winter fuel payment. 

The Tories say they could save billions of pounds if they restrict the payments only to those who are classed as living in "fuel poverty".

Households are regarded as being in fuel poverty if they need to spend more than 10pc of their income to heat their home to an adequate standard. In England this is defined as 21C in the living room and 18C in other occupied rooms.

Figures from the Department of Energy & Climate Change show that 2.4 million households live in fuel poverty – almost 11pc of all English households, although many of the people affected would be too young to be eligible for the winter fuel payment.

The Tories say money saved by means-testing the annual heating handout will be used to help close the £2.8bn social care funding gap. 

 

 

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