SNP accused of winter fuel payments U-turn
Social justice secretary Alex Neil has moved to promise that the winter fuel payment will not be abolished or means-tested only hours after civil servants disclosed that the plans were being considered.
A Scottish Government paper on the future of social security, which was published this week, said ministers were “considering the eligibility criteria” for the payments of £100-£300 when it comes under Holyrood control.
Alternative options included a fuel bill rebate or using the funding to provide warmer homes, the paper said.
The Scottish Government will take control of the benefits as part of the post-referendum deal on more powers for Scotland. The winter fuel benefit is a payment of £100-£300 for over-62s.
But a report, entitled Creating a Fairer Scotland: Social Security, The Story So Far… And The Next Steps, warns the benefit is not “targeted.”
“There is no guarantee that eligible households will use the income to reduce fuel bills,” the report says.
“With the devolution of Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments, we are considering the eligibility criteria, converting the payments into a fuel bill rebate or using the funding to provide warmer more affordable homes for people.”
But only hours after the report was published, Alex Neil insisted there were “no plans” to alter the allowance after it is devolved.
A Scottish Government spokesperson later clarified the plans, saying: “There is absolutely no question of means-testing eligibility for the winter fuel allowance - or of removing entitlement from anyone who currently receives it.
“What the consultation is aimed at, is seeing if it would be appropriate and effective to use winter fuel payments as part of our aims to tackle fuel poverty and make homes warmer.
“This includes looking at whether it is appropriate to extend eligibility and if fuel bill rebates should be considered. We want to help people who are struggling to keep their homes warm - and this is one area we are exploring to see if are able to do that.”
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “Alex Neil appears to be now saying something vastly different to what was in a document he has only just written.
“This does not bode well for the SNP being able to handle the responsibility of more powers. At the first hint of criticism on a controversial issue, the party has run an absolute mile.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “How can older people, worried about what this all means for their payments, trust them?
“The SNP spend all their time talking about the powers they want without telling us how they would use them to make people’s lives easier.”