Never fear, the BBC reassured us:
... the government said it would be making cold winter payments because temperatures had been low enough for vulnerable people to qualify... ...Minister Helen Goodman said: "The payments are automatic so everyone entitled will get them and should not worry about turning up their heating."
But who is entitled?
Well, there's two different payments. The first is the Winter Fuel Allowance. This is for all UK residents over the age of 60 and is made every winter. It is automatically paid for anyone on a state pension or pension credit, other people who are old enough can apply for it separately regardless of wealth. The payment is between £125 and £400 per person depending on your exact age and how many people are in your household, and has an effective minimum of £250 per household.
The second is the Cold Weather Payment. This is more complicated. More people can get it. There's the pensioners (again, and on top of the Winter Fuel Allowance already recieved). Then there's people on Income Support, Jobseekers' Allowance or ESA who also have a child under five, or a pension or disability premium added to their basic eligibility.
However instead of being paid every winter, it is only paid when there has been a "period of extreme cold weather", defined as seven consecutive days on which the average daily temperature at your postcode's weather station was zero or below. If this happens, a payment of £25 is added to your benefit for each seven-day period.
If there are six days where the temperature is below freezing, and then one day where it creeps up to one or two degrees above, and then another six days of freezing - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.
If your child over five is sent home from school, and you have to heat the house during the day for their sake - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.
If you are disabled in a way that affects your body's ability to keep warm, but instead of being at home and claiming benefit, you are working from home (either permanently, or because you cannot get into your workplace in the snow) - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.
Today Helen Goodman, the Minister for Work and Pensions, was supposed to answer questions in a No 10 webchat. This was keenly followed over on Ouch! and Twitter and unsurprisingly we were all left disappointed. Polite, well-typed and specific policy questions like "What is the specific reason for Winter Fuel Payments not being available to the most vulnerable disabled people as well as pensioners, please?" were ignored in favour of the type of questions that are already very easily answered with a quick search of DirectGov, the type of questions that allowed the Minister to promote the Warm Front Scheme, or questions about individual circumstances such as this gem:
hi this Cold Weather Payment is it for everyone as on the directgov web page its as if u have kids under 5 in witch i have 2 kids under 5 so would that mean i get the Cold Weather Payment x
If you are on Income Support and you have a child under 5 years old, you will get a Cold Weather Payment. The same applies if you are on income based Jobseekers Allowance, with a child under 5.
Quite how people like "melita" have the capacity to find out about, submit questions to, and watch a government webcast, yet were unable to contact their local Jobcentres to check their specific eligibility, is beyond me.
Disabled people were told that they already get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to pay for increased heating costs. It's quite astounding the amount of shortfall that DLA is meant to cover. As Lisy put it:
We're only granted DLA for "care" and "mobility". There's no "heating component" of DLA or an "any other costs" component of DLA. Please explain how we're supposed to pay for heating if all our Mobility component is taken by Motability and all our care component is taken by Social Services?
Another question there that, unsurprisingly, the Minister chose to not answer.