SNP accused of U-turn on winter fuel payments axe

The SNP appeared to reverse a decision to axe winter fuel payments. Picture (posed by model): John Devlin
The SNP appeared to reverse a decision to axe winter fuel payments. Picture (posed by model): John Devlin
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MINISTERS have been accused of a staging a U-turn on plans to axe winter fuel payments for older Scots.

A blueprint on the future of social security published by ministers this week said the “eligibility criteria” for the payments of £100-£300 would be reviewed.

How can older people, worried about what this all means, trust them?”

WILLIE RENNIE

But the Scottish Government last night insisted there is “absolutely no question of means-testing eligibility”.

The climbdown met with a stinging reaction from opposition parties.

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.”

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.”

The SNP called for an increase in winter fuel payments last year, and pledged to protect the allowance in its 2015 election manifesto. There have previously been calls to means-test fuel payments.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “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.”