The Daily Telegraph

Wealthy pensioners may not need winter fuel cash, suggests Tory MP

- By Ben Riley-smith POLITICAL EDITOR

WEALTHY pensioners’ need for winter fuel payments has been questioned by a senior Treasury minister, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

John Glen said at a Cambridge University Conservati­ves event last month that such money could be better spent tackling child poverty.

Mr Glen, who was chief secretary to the Treasury at the time, argued that his own mother, who was “perfectly comfortabl­e”, should not be getting the financial support, though added that rationing it would be “very difficult”.

The position, which he articulate­d in private, contradict­s the Government’s public stance, which is that winter fuel payments should be given to all pensioners rather than only the poorest.

Means-testing the benefit could, in theory, lead to millions of pensioners losing out. Last winter, 11.4 million people received the winter fuel payment.

Yesterday, the Treasury insisted a change was not being announced at this week’s Autumn Statement, with a government spokesman saying: “That is not something we are going to do.”

The comments, captured in a recording published on The Telegraph website, reveal that the Treasury has reconsider­ed long-held pensioner benefits as public finances are squeezed.

Today, Rishi Sunak will give a speech declaring that the British economy has turned a corner, hailing the halving of inflation this year and emphasisin­g the need to now focus on growth.

Final decisions on tax cuts to be unveiled on Wednesday remain closely guarded. Moves on inheritanc­e tax, income tax, National Insurance and stamp duty have all been speculated.

The winter fuel payment ranges from £250 to £600 and is for those born before Sept 25 1957 to help with energy bills. It was introduced by New Labour in 1997. In public, government figures defend keeping the payment universal, which means all pensioners receive it regardless of their personal financial

situation. But Mr Glen expressed interest in a different approach at a gathering of Cambridge University Conservati­ves in St John’s College on Oct 26.

Mr Glen said: “I think we also need to come to terms with the fact that the triple lock is very expensive and how sustainabl­e is that going forward in terms of pensions and all the other benefits?

“Because my mother, she’s not very rich but she’s perfectly comfortabl­e. She just texted me today aged 75 to say ‘I’ve just heard about my £500 winter fuel payment’ and I’m just like ‘you don’t need that’.

“But finding a mechanism to try and ration that [the Winter Fuel Payment] is very difficult because our HMRC system will look at household incomes. These are the sorts of mechanics of government you’ve got to look at. Is it better if we spent more of that money on child poverty? It probably is. But these are the sorts of things I think we need to look at.”

Mr Glen was moved in the Cabinet reshuffle last Monday and is now Paymaster General and minister for the Cabinet Office. He declined to comment further when approached about his comments yesterday.

The recording offers an insight into the conversati­ons happening at the top of the Treasury as savings are sought, with both public spending and taxation levels rising in recent years.

While the Treasury ruled out changes coming on winter fuel payments last night, there has been no such denial of a potential tweak to the pensions triple lock being considered.

The pensions triple lock, a flagship Tory promise at successive elections, sees the state pension rise by either 2.5 per cent, average earnings or inflation, whichever is highest.

Ministers have been looking at selecting a different figure for average earnings – which right now is the highest of the three – than in the past for the increases coming next spring.

They are considerin­g taking the figure for average earnings minus the impact of public sector bonuses, which is 7.8 per cent, rather than the overall figure, which is 8.5 per cent.

That would mean pensioners being as much as £74 out of pocket next year, compared with the previous approach.

Those Government figures backing the change are arguing that a unique spike in public sector bonuses, triggered by pay settlement­s over strikes, has skewed the figures.

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