OAPs sent dud cheques

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THE Tories yesterday accused Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, of losing control of her department after it emerged that 40,000 pensioners had received dud cheques for their winter fuel payments.

"Computer operator error" meant the cheques were dated 1995 and bounced when presented. Another 9,000 pensioners who failed to qualify were given the money.

Iain Duncan Smith, shadow social security secretary, said: "The figures speak for themselves. The scheme is clearly not a success, as the Government has claimed, when only one in eight pensioners received payment by the beginning of March.

"This measure was promised by the Chancellor for all pensioners in November. The Secretary of State must take full control for this sham. She is simply not in control of her department. She isn't up to the job."

At the last count, only one in eight of the country's 10.7 million pensioners had received the virtually universal payment to help them with winter fuel bills. Those on income support get pounds 50. Pensioner couples get pounds 20, as do those living alone.

The DSS last night promised that all pensioners would get their cheques by the end of this month, and insisted that all those on income support had been paid. The error, which resulted in the despatch of 40,801 out- of-date cheques, had been put right within 72 hours. Cheques had been sent mistakenly to pensioners in old people's homes though they did not qualify.

The Tories also accused the Government of wasting pounds 1.7m on advertising, which they said was unnecessary because it applied to all pensioners.

"This advertising campaign was awarded to BNP," a party spokesman said. "The Government should have been sensitive to the fact that BNP has held a Labour Party account since 1985. For the Government to make this award without it going to tender leaves it open to the charge of sleaze, by favouring an agency closely linked to the Labour Party with an advertising campaign which was not required."