Coalition leaves pensioners in the cold

Mike Weir MP has expressed disappointment that his private members bill - which sought to help pensioners in off-grid households beat winter fuel costs - has been unable to progress after the preceding bill was talked out by MPs representing the Coalition Government parties.

Mr Weir's Winter Fuel Allowance (Off Gas Grid claimants) bill - which had secured cross party support as well as backing from Citizens Advice and a coalition of organisations championing rural issues, including the NFU - would have brought forward the payment date for the winter fuel allowance to off-grid pensioners to allow them to fill up their tanks while fuel costs are cheaper.

Commenting Mr Weir said:

"It is bitterly disappointing that the progress of this bill has been blocked by Tory and LibDem MPs who have contrived to leave pensioners out in the cold. The archaic procedures that prevented progress of this bill demonstrate both that Westminster is totally unreformable, and that people in Scotland will be better off with independence.

"The was a straightforward bill, seeking a cost neutral amendment that would have delivered real help to many struggling pensioners in rural areas across the UK. The fact that the UK government are neither willing to look seriously at the matter, or even allow time for debate of the issue, shows how little they care about the concerns of pensioners who face fuel poverty.

"This bill was not controversial or revolutionary - it would not have extended the scheme, nor been costly but would simply have brought forward payments by a few months to ensure that off grid pensioners could confidently fill up their tanks and look forward to the winter with the assurance that they could heat their homes and would not face supply difficulties in bad weather.

"There will be real anger through rural areas of Scotland and the rest of the UK that they would not even sanction such a modest proposal to begin to tackle the immense problems that face off grid consumers, whose energy bills are not only substantially higher but rising faster than those who have access to the gas grid. Yet again the rural fuel poor are being ignored.

"When winter fuel allowance was introduced it was claimed that payment would be made at a time when the bills became payable, but that is not the case with those off grid and this bill would have tackled that anomaly."

ENDS

The bill had received backing from Citizens Advice:

"Citizens Advice supports the aims of this Bill. People who are not connected to the gas grid, and therefore rely on heating oil or LPG to keep their homes warm in the winter have to pay for their fuel in bulk and up front. Our evidence shows that people on low incomes, including the elderly, can find it very difficult, or in some cases impossible, to afford to fill up their tanks ahead of winter. As Professor Hills'
Fuel Poverty Review acknowledged, cold homes can have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of those in fuel poverty.
Receiving the Winter Fuel Payment early would help those pensioners who live in off-grid homes to top up their tank and keep warm and healthy through the winter."

In addition, the bill had received backing from the Rural Coalition, chaired by Lord Robin Teverson, which is made up of leading organisations that represent rural interests. It was formed to promote the growing consensus around the future of rural communities and rural sustainable
development:

"People who are not connected to the gas grid, and therefore rely on heating oil or LPG to keep their homes warm in the winter, very often have to pay for their fuel in bulk and up-front.
Evidence shows that people on low incomes, including the elderly, can find it very difficult, or in some cases impossible, to afford to fill up their tanks ahead of winter. As Professor Hills's Fuel Poverty Review acknowledged, cold homes can have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of those in fuel poverty. Receiving the Winter Fuel Payment early would help those on the lowest incomes who live in off-grid homes to top up their tank and keep warm and healthy through the winter. The Rural Coalition therefore supports the aims of this Bill."

The following member organisations support the Rural Coalition's work and this statement:

Action with Communities in Rural England
Action for Market Towns
Arthur Rank Centre Country
Land & Business Association
County Councils Network
National Association of Local Councils
National Farmers' Union
Plunkett Foundation
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Rural Services Network Royal Town Planning Institute Town and Country Planning Association