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Dorset charity urges elderly not to give up winter fuel payments
DORSET residents should be encouraged – but not forced – to give up their winter fuel payments if they don’t need them, a charity has claimed.
The Dorset Community Foundation voiced its concerns after Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow suggested restricting the winter fuel payments to just the poorest pensioners.
He said the savings could then be used to introduce a cap on the amount people have to pay towards their social care.
The ongoing debate will be watched closely in Dorset, where 25.6 per cent of the population are of retirement age and life expectancy is higher than average at 80.3 for men and 82.8 for women. The growing numbers of elderly people also has a massive impact on council budgets.
The Dorset Community Foundation is currently running a Surviving Winter campaign, appealing for those who don’t need their winter fuel allowance to donate it to them instead. They raised £17,000 by doing this last year and the total stands at £12,000 this time. Last year, the money funded lunch clubs, Christmas lunches for the homeless, social activities for the elderly, transport and food banks.
But Daisy Ilchovska, of the Community Foundation, said they fully supported keeping the winter fuel allowances universal. “We don’t think it should be means-tested,” she said. “But there are a lot of people out there who don’t need the winter fuel allowance and we see this campaign as a way of recycling those benefits.
“We would like to see more people encouraged to take part in campaigns like this, if they can afford it, but it should be purely voluntary.”
However, Pat Lewis, the chair of Bournemouth Older People’s Forum, said she was broadly in favour of the idea: “There has been a lot of discussion at the forum about winter fuel allowances. It’s quite contentious but many people feel that the way forward is to means test them because it would be fairer.
“If people are well off they don’t need that extra couple of hundred pounds and it could be used in a much better way.”
And Cllr Andrew Cattaway, Dorset’s cabinet member for adult social care, said he did not want to comment on the idea of means-testing winter fuel allowances but stressed: “It’s long past the time for the government to take some measures to help those who are in the most need.
“Paul Burstow is trying to nudge the government into producing more funding to look after those in most need and of that I’m fully supportive.”