The what, who and how of winter fuel payments
Winter Fuel Payments are available to older people in the UK, but what are they, who qualifies, and how do you claim?
Winter Fuel Payments (often referred to as winter fuel allowances) are given to older people to help them keep warm through the coldest months of the year. They’ve been around since 1997 to help tackle fuel poverty among pensioners – though the jury is out on whether that goal has been achieved.
This article outlines the current status up to March 2019. After that, changes may happen. The various political parties have previously stated their stance on the payments. The Conservatives talked in their manifesto about making the payment means-tested, but that plan has been thwarted by the alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. The Liberal Democrats have discussed withdrawing the payment from higher-rate taxpayers. As far as we can see, other parties, including the Scottish National Party, are quite content with the system as it is. In its last manifesto the Labour Party said Winter Fuel Payments (and free bus passes) would be guaranteed.
Watch this space – and we’ll update this article if the need arises.
What is a winter fuel payment?
It’s a tax-free annual payment to help older people pay their winter heating bills.
Who gets the payment?
To qualify you must have reached the state pension age by the required date. To receive a payment this winter (2018/19) both men and women need to have reached 65 by 5 November 2018.
Where is it available?
You are eligible if you live in the Great Britain, or if you live in Switzerland or the EEA (European Economic Area) and have a genuine link with the UK social security system.
There was a bit of a furore a few years ago about ex-pats enjoying the winter in sunnier climes and supposedly using their fuel payment to fund their lifestyles. However, there are exclusions for those who live in some southern European countries where the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest region of the UK.
There are other exclusions. Anyone who has been in hospital for over a year receiving free treatment won’t be eligible for the payment. Nor will anyone who happened to be in prison for the whole of the qualifying week!
Anyone living in a care home won’t receive the payment if they receive certain other benefits, such as Pension Credit.
Scotland and Northern Ireland rules are essentially the same. The Scotland Act of 2016 gave the Scottish Government power over certain benefits, including Winter Fuel Payments. A separate but identical Winter Fuel Payments scheme exists in Northern Ireland.
Who makes the payment?
It’s a benefit paid by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Is it a one-off or a regular payment through the winter?
The payment is made in one lump sum in November or December.
How much is it?
For 2018/19 the standard rates are £200 per eligible household where the oldest person is under 80, and £300 for households containing a person aged 80 or over.
|You qualify and live alone (or none of the people you live with qualify)||£200||£300|
|You qualify and live with someone under 80 who also qualifies||£100||£200|
|You qualify and live with someone 80 or over who also qualifies||£100||£150|
|You qualify, live in a care home and do not get certain benefits||£100||£150|
Is it means-tested?
No. And any money you get is tax-free and will not affect your other benefits.
Is it automatically given to anyone who qualifies?
Most payments are made automatically, but if you qualify and you are not getting a state pension or other social security benefit, you will need to make a claim. You will also need to claim if you live in Switzerland or an EEA country.
If you have to apply, how do you apply?
Contact the Winter Fuel Payment Centre.
What information will you need to give?
- National Insurance number
- Bank or Building Society details
- Date you married or entered into civil partnership (if applicable)
Does anyone check what you actually spend it on?
What is the cold weather payment, and how is it different?
The Cold Weather Payments scheme is an entirely separate scheme, under which recipients of certain benefits receive automatic payments of £25 a week during periods of very cold weather. Payments are triggered for each 7-day period where the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, 0°C or below. The scheme runs from 1 November to 31 March.
(Information is accurate at February 2019)
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