So far it has been a relatively mild winter, but with temperatures falling, many older residents in the Tynedale area will be concerned about heating costs.
Winter fuel payments to pensioners are tax-free payments of between £100 and £300. They were introduced by the Labour Government back in 1997. Most payments are made between November and December. We are proposing to bring forward payment of the winter fuel allowance from December to July to allow pensioners to buy their domestic heating oil during the summer months when costs are lower.
There are 4.6 million pensioners in the UK who do not have access to gas central heating. They have to use alternative sources of energy such as oil-fired heating, solid fuel or liquid petroleum gas. This group is more likely to be in fuel poverty than those who do have access to gas because heating costs are higher. Nationally 15% of UK households do not have access to a mains gas supply, rising to 18% of households in Northumberland.
Since 2005 heating oil prices have doubled. Suppliers often put prices up just before the winter payment is due. Bringing the winter fuel payment forward would allow customers in rural areas to pay for their fuel before the winter, so they would get more heating oil for their money.
Although Labours price freeze on gas and electricity is big news, during the freeze, all parts of the energy market will be reviewed. Off grid energy in rural areas will not be overlooked.