Up to 2600 Stratford on Avon pensioners entitled to Cold Weather Payments ((People can get Cold Weather Payments worth £25 when temperatures are below zero Celsius for seven days when they claim a qualifying benefit, including Pension Credit)) are missing out, according to Lib Dem analysis of government figures. Cold Weather Payments of £25 a week are paid to people on low incomes who received a qualifying benefit, such as Pension Credit. Nationally this goes unclaimed by as many as 1.7 million pensioners. ((Department for Work and Pensions figures for 2007-08 (most recent available) show that between 1.1m and 1.7m pensioners eligible for Pension Credit do not claim it, which also means that they do not receive the Cold Weather Payments.))
There are three crucial issues here, and the government ought to account for all three.
First, since official figures suggest that half of all eligible pensioners are not claiming Pension Credit, and hence winter fuel payments, it follows that there is something seriously wrong with the system for claiming. If 10 percent, or even 20 percent, did not claim, then you might be able to put it down to the ordinary experience with this kind of scheme. It is very hard to persuade 90 percent of people to do anything. Generally, if you hit 80 percent, you will probably accept that the remaining 20 percent are hard to reach in some way, or simply don’t want to take up the payment for some reason. But fifty percent? People I have talked to tell me that the system is very complex, far more so than needed. Is this the reason that only half have claimed? Possibly. But see the next point.
Second, there is a very serious issue that the government has no recent figures, and even the 2007-08 figures are national estimates. In a time when government agencies regularly use ACORN classifications, breaking society down into more than 300 socio-cultural groups, and where the Office for National Statistics is able to provide useful detail down to a few streets or a local area (Output Areas and Super Output Areas), it is astonishing that the government only has the most general figures for such a significant problem. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they have no real understanding of why half the eligible people are not claiming.
Third, in this time of extreme temperatures, lives are at risk as people on already meagre incomes are forced to stump up the extra cash for heating. A lot of people I have talked to in the constituency have experienced winter heating problems — lack of fuel oil, electricity failures in the freezing conditions, and more. People on low pensions in such circumstances have to spend even more money for temporary solutions. It is the government’s moral duty to do all it can to ensure that winter fuel payments are made — even to the point of offering them retrospectively for older people who register now or in the next few weeks.