£100m cold weather payments ‘put hole in DWP budget’
The early bout of arctic weather has already triggered £100 million of extra benefits spending, more than the sum ministers had budgeted for the entire winter.
Around four million old and vulnerable people this week received the first cold weather payments of the year.
But the early arrival of wintry weather threatens to punch a hole in the budget of the Department of Work and Pensions, which makes the payments.
Low temperatures this week triggered extra payments to pensioners and other welfare recipients, who get £25 for each seven day period of extremely cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.
Payments are triggered when temperatures are recorded as falling to freezing point over seven consecutive days.
The first payments arrived in recipients’ accounts on Wednesday.
The DWP said it has spent £103 million on the payments this week.
However, the Treasury projection for cold weather payments this year had been only £76 million.
The Treasury said its projection is based on long-term averages for British winter temperatures.
Cold weather payments are not funded from the DWP’s core budget, instead coming from general government spending overseen by the Treasury.
This week’s spending will force the Treasury to find more cash, which could come from other benefits payments or from elsewhere in the public sector.
Last year’s winter was also much colder than the average, leading to total cold weather payments of almost £300 million.
Steve Webb, the pensions minister who oversees cold weather payments, said the Coalition was committed to paying the money to older people.
He said: “Cold Weather Payments provide real help to the most vulnerable. We don’t want people to worry about turning up their heating when temperatures plummet”.
Douglas Alexander, the Labour shadow work and pensions secretary, warned that the overspend on winter fuel payments could lead to ministers cutting others benefits and “raiding other payments to families.”
Around 4 million people are potentially eligible for cold weather payments. Over 2 million are pensioners who receive Pension Credit. Payments can also be made to disabled adults and children and families with children under 5 who receive an income-related benefit.
By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent 10:00PM GMT 02 Dec 2010
Source: The Telegraph