Age Scotland backs calls for Winter Fuel Payment top-up

Age Scotland has welcomed a Scottish Labour proposal calling for an increase in this year’s Winter Fuel Payment.

Party leader Anas Sarwar said that older people should receive an extra £70 this year to help with rising fuel bills – which the charity believes would be a welcome boost for those on the lowest incomes as temperatures begin to drop.

This comes after Age Scotland warned last week that the growing energy crisis posed a serious risk for thousands of older people this winter, and urged on the UK and Scottish Governments to work with energy suppliers to ensure vulnerable customers are treated as a priority.

Now, with the energy price cap increase mere days away and major energy companies continuing to go bust, the charity said urgent support is needed to protect against fuel poverty.

Age Scotland’s head of policy and communications, Adam Stachura, said: “Topping up the Winter Fuel Payment would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the well-being of older people on lower incomes, who we know found energy bills a considerable challenge to pay even before the current energy crisis hit.

“Those struggling to cope with rising fuel costs will already be thinking about how they might tighten their belts to make it through the colder months. It should never be a choice between heating and other essentials - we cannot risk older people making unnecessary and potentially unsafe sacrifices.

“Receiving an additional £70 with their Winter Fuel Payment could make all the difference, and would also help take action on growing pensioner poverty.

“Through our ‘Check in, Cash out’ campaign, we want to ensure no eligible older person misses out on vital social security support, including the Winter Fuel Payment. Anyone who is unsure about their entitlements can contact our 0800 12 44 222 helpline for a free check, as well as further advice about saving energy and staying warm and well at home.”

Speaking at Labour’s annual conference yesterday, Anas Sarwar said the £70 payment would help mitigate the immediate pressures they are facing on their fuel bills heading into the colder months.

“This winter too many Scots are facing fuel poverty as energy prices spiral out of control,” he added.

“In Scotland, 150,000 pensioners live in relative poverty every year – with thousands more on the brink.

“The Scottish Parliament has the power to make winter payments reflect the pressures on fuel poor households, but the SNP have delayed taking responsibility.

“That is why we would give every pensioner on the lowest incomes £70 now to help them through the winter months.

“Where the SNP obsess over mandates and white papers, the powers of the Scottish Parliament could be used to end the choice between heating and eating this winter.”

Social justice secretary Shona Robison said: “We are already taking a wide range of actions within our powers to help people who are on low incomes including the Scottish Child Payment and bridging payments for families on low incomes.

“Our £130 pandemic payment will also reach everyone in receipt of council tax reduction in October. In addition, we have also announced our plans to extend Child Winter Heating Assistance to reach 5,000 additional families with severely disabled young people to help them with costs of heating their home.

“Our efforts will be undermined by the UK Government’s plans to remove more than £1,000 per year in Universal Credit (UC) payments from the lowest income households. Many of those who will lose out are unable to work due to ill health and disability and more than a third of UC recipients are already in work but rely on the payments to make ends meet.

“We continue to call on the UK Government to reconsider this unjustifiable decision and do more to protect the most vulnerable.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “We’ve taken action to keep the cost of living down for families, including the energy price cap, which is in place to protect 15 million households from increases in global gas prices this winter, and the doubling of free childcare.

“Our warm home discount, winter fuel payments and cold weather payments will also support millions of vulnerable and low-income households with their energy bills.

“The uplift to Universal Credit was always a temporary measure to help claimants through the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“It’s right that as the economy rebounds, we should focus on our multi-billion-pound plan for jobs, supporting people back into work and helping the employed progress in their career and earn more.”

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