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Vulnerable people are missing out on cold weather cash because of fundamental flaws in system

Vulnerable people are missing out on cold weather cash because of fundamental flaws in system
4 min read

Each winter there are over 30,000 ‘excess deaths’, many traceable to poor heating, says Hywel Williams MP, ahead of his Ten Minute Rule Motion today on Cold Weather Payments.


When the weather is very cold some people who are vulnerable get a one off payment of £25. Those qualifying are usually older people, people with a disability and families with young children and on some means tested benefits.  This money has been paid for many years and is quite apart from the one off Winter Fuel Payment for all those over 65. 
 
The scheme has been modified and improved by successive governments and is a valuable specific payment for people whose usual incomes are under pressure anyway. But it does still have the feel of something that’s been rather cobbled together to benefit groups who are seen  by some at least to be pretty marginal. 
 
Some basic questions have always troubled me.  
 
£25 is worth having of course. But is the payment enough to make a real difference? Why is it usually paid retrospectively?  
 
This is a key issue for anyone on a low income having to buy their energy upfront. Why is there a cut- off date of the last day of March? The weather can be very hard in April and even May, particularly so in upland areas. 
 
And lastly and crucially, how does the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decide if it has been, or will be sufficiently cold for the qualifying period in a particular area? My Ten minute Rule Bill seeks to address this last question. 
 
At present the money is paid to people according to their post code.So the Arfon constituency is bundled in with neighbouring Ynys Môn. Arfon includes a fair chunk of mountainous Eryri (Snowdonia). Ynys Môn is the island of Anglesey, flat, coastal and basking on its western face in the remains of the Gulf Stream as it heads north. 
 
So, should I ask you to guess where the temperature is measured for our postcode areas? On the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) or over 20 miles away at Mona on the western side of Ynys Môn? I really don’t need to ask at all do I! 
 
The DWP says that, ‘The scheme links postcodes to the weather stations that provide the most stable and accurate readings for average temperatures.’  
 
I have no quarrel with ‘stable’. ‘Accurate’ is another matter. 
 
I’m sure individual weather stations provide accurate readings where they are. But do they reflect the conditions my constituents face. No mains gas. Some expensive gas from communal tanks or from bottles at each household. Dependence on solid fuel or expensive electricity. And really hard weather. 

I don’t know either how the Met Office decide what is ‘average’ for a large and varied area, and is this at all meaningful for its purpose in this case. So I have sought my own expert advice. 
 
What I do know for certain is that last winter, when the weather was bitterly cold for long periods, my elderly constituents in villages like Deiniolen high up in Eryri received only one Cold Weather Payment. And I’m sure Deiniolen or Arfon aren’t unique in England and Wales. 
 
The DWP say “Each year we review the scheme, seeking expert advice from the Met Office, taking into account representations from MPs and the public.” My bill calls for a report on that review so that we can engage properly in an informed debate as to the future. It also calls for consideration of alternative decision-making system(s). 
 
And there is really no time to lose. For the bitter twist to this tale of course is that each winter there are over 30,000 ‘excess deaths’, many traceable to poor heating. 
 
Hywel Williams is MP for Arfon and Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Work and Pensions

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