New fuel payments for 2m pensioners

Over 2 million male pensioners will benefit from winter fuel payments costing the Government at least £150m, the Secretary of State for Social Security announced yesterday.

Alistair Darling's extension of the scheme was prompted by the victory of a retired postal worker in the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the Government's benefits system practised sex discrimination.

The court decided in December that John Taylor, 64, from Norton, North Yorkshire, was a victim of unlawful sex discrimination because the fuel payment was only made to pensioners. Mr Taylor was not entitled until to a pension until he reached 65, while women qualify at 60.

As a result, the Government will have to extend the £150 winter-fuel payment to all men over 60. The payment was increased from £100 in last month's Budget.

The extension will stretch back two years to the point when the allowance was brought in by Labour. The Department for Social Security said that an extensive search had been mounted to identify the 2 million men who were eligible.