Pensioners: Winter fuel allowance raised by £50 to £250

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The Independent Online

Winter fuel allowance for pensioners aged over 60 was raised by £50 to £250 but the increase was dismissed as a "pittance" by Help the Aged.

Pensioners over 80 will get an extra £100 on their current fuel allowance, raising it to £400. But the charity argued it was not enough to meet the 15 per cent rise in prices by the fuel companies, who escaped a windfall profits tax. The increases are also a "one-off" that will not be repeated next year, unless the Chancellor finds more money.

Mervyn Kohler, spokesman for Help the Aged, said it was "a badge of shame" that Alistair Darling had not taken more decisive action to combat the evils of fuel poverty. He said the one-off increase in the Winter Fuel Payment was nothing more than a "sticking plaster" that would fail to help pensioners in the long term. "Older people need far more than gestures while energy prices spiral ever upwards," said Mr Kohler.

"This was a Budget that simply hasn't delivered enough for older people struggling with the soaring cost of living.

"Fuel bills, water rates, council tax and even food and other basics are all increasing way beyond the pitiful rises in the basic state pension and pension credit. As a result, more older people will face tough choices over the course of this year when what was hoped for was genuine action on pensioner poverty."

Citizens Advice called on the Government to do more to help the elderly claim the £2.5bn a year in benefits that currently goes unclaimed by pensioners. Teresa Perchard, policy director, said: "It is very important to see action on fuel costs in this Budget and the Chancellor's commitment to lead discussions with the industry with the aim of securing an increase in their expenditure on social responsibility activities (from £50m this year to £150m) is welcome.

"However, we hope that this substantial increase in expenditure by companies is not funded by consumers who are already struggling to pay their fuel bills."

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) said pensioners were furious with the Government's refusal to improve the state pension by immediately linking uprating with earnings rather than inflation.

"Britain continues to have the least adequate state pension in Europe and the promise to restore the link with earnings is still at least four years away, by which time 3 million of today's pensioners will have died," said NPC chairman Frank Cooper.

"Failing to mention this, or the need to address the rising council tax faced by millions of older households will once again leave Britain's pensioners feeling like they're the forgotten generation."

'The extra money will help' - Rosina Cottrell, 72

Rosina Cottrell, 72, is a widow from Bristol. Her husband was a warehouseman who had a pension bringing in £140 a month. Until last year, she had a cleaning job to help make ends meet.

Now retired on the state pension, she says the increase in the winter fuel allowance is still not enough. "I fall between the age groups and there is a big difference between £250 and £400. It still won't cover my winter bills," she said.

"The cost of everything is rising and rising and we are not seeing any real increase in state pension. It is very hard to live off that money now. I try to buy food when it is reduced in the shops and I have to budget really carefully. It can be quite scary if any unexpected costs, such as house repairs, come up because I have no savings.

"I hope that by the time my children are elderly things are better. It is such an awful struggle for pensioners at the moment."