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80% want to see changes to winter fuel payments

Work and Pensions Secretary's statements appear to strike a chord with consumers

hand grabbing moneyRecent research from uSwitch reveals that eight in 10 surveyed would like to see winter fuel payments restricted to those living in the UK.

Another 66% believed that those with financial means should be able to opt out of the benefit payment altogether.

‘Giving back’ unnecessary winter fuel payments funds recently came into the spotlight after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in an interview urged wealthy pensioners to ‘hand back’ their unneeded benefit payments, including the winter fuel payment.

He was quoted in the Telegraph as saying:

“It is up to them if they don’t want it to hand it back. I would encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn’t need it to hand it back.”

Smith later tried to clarify his statement, telling BBC Radio 4 that he was not taking a policy stance, only making a point that it was up to pensioners, and the ability to give it back is there for those who wish to do so.

Allowances go to anyone 62 years and older, automatically. However, survey results showed that 49% want winter fuel payments to be means tested, and 60% would like to see health taken in to account as well.  Fifty-five percent want to see the benefits payment rise with inflation rates.

“With household energy bills at a record high, winter fuel payments can be a lifeline for state pensioners struggling to get by,” stated Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.

“Our research shows overwhelming support for the allowance to continue, but a growing recognition that payments could be better targeted at those who actually need the extra help.”

Fuel poverty a growing problem

Recent news reported that the UK is the worst hit Western European country when it comes to fuel poverty — with the affordability of heating carrying most of the blame for 5 million households being subject the issue.

“Almost seven in 10 households went without heating at some point over the winter to keep their energy costs down, while a third of people say that cutting back on energy usage is affecting their quality of life or health — up 15% from last year.” Robsinson said.

“Limiting winter fuel payments to those living in the UK and giving wealthier recipients the right to opt out could prove propular moves and would put more money in the kitty for those in greater hardship.”