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David Cameron 'will protect OAP benefits'


Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to protecting pensioners' entitlements to benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and free prescriptions, eye-tests and bus travel in their current form, Downing Street said today.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said the entitlements were enshrined in the coalition agreement and made clear that the commitment would stand until the next general election, expected in 2015.

Reports in The Sun today suggested a behind-the-scenes rift over the benefits - worth about £5 billion a year - between Mr Cameron and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr Duncan Smith is understood to be considering whether the Treasury could save as much as £2 billion a year by means-testing the payouts in a future round of cuts.

The Department for Work and Pensions today said it remained committed to continue to pay the £200-a-year winter fuel allowance - worth £300 to people aged over 80 - in its current form.

Other departments and bodies are responsible for other benefits, such as the free TV licence for people aged over-75.

The entitlements are paid out to pensioners regardless of their income or savings, meaning that large numbers of people receive help with expenses which they can easily afford. It is thought that the winter fuel allowance is received by an estimated 100,000 households with a retirement income over £100,000 as well as 73,000 Britons who have retired to warm countries such as Spain.

In the run-up to the 2010 general election, Mr Cameron made a very public pledge to protect the entitlements, denouncing Labour claims that he would cut them as "lies, lies, lies".

Asked today whether the Prime Minister was committed to retaining the entitlements as universal benefits, the Downing Street spokeswoman said: "It is in the coalition agreement. He stands by what is in the coalition agreement."

The 2010 agreement, which sets out the agenda of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government, states: "We will protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel and free eye tests and prescriptions."

Asked today whether this meant that the entitlements would be protected in their current form, the spokeswoman told reporters: "It is protecting what is in place."

But she made clear that the commitments contained in the agreement related only to the current Parliament and did not tie the hands of the coalition partners in the period following the next general election.