§ Mrs. Ann Winterton
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if she will list the total number of pensioner winter fuel payments issued(a) in error and (b) in duplicate; 
(2) how many complaints her Department has received regarding the issuing in error of pensioner winter fuel payments; 
(3) if she will list the total (a) number and (b) cost of pensioner winter fuel payments issued which have subsequently been cashed which were issued (i) in error and (ii) in duplicate. 
§ Mr. Denham
Winter Fuel Payments are one of a number of initiatives the Government has taken to help vulnerable people, especially the elderly, keep warm in the winter. A total of £400 million has been committed for two years (97–98 and 98–99), to help pensioners with fuel bills to pay. This is the first time any Government have provided additional help with heating costs to all pensioners living in the United Kingdom who receive a retirement pension or one of a number of other qualifying benefits.468W
The making of this year's payments has been an enormous and unprecedented exercise. In order to establish all eligible pensioners, correctly identify pensioner households, and determine the amount each should receive, it was necessary to correlate data in around 15 million computer records, involving 15 qualifying benefits, across nine computer systems. Overall, almost ten million pensioners, in over seven million households, have received a payment.
The administration of Winter Fuel Payments is a matter for Peter Mathison, Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.
Letter from Peter Mathison to Mrs. Ann Winterton, dated 6 May 1998:The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions concerning the issue of Winter Fuel Payments.The making of Winter Fuel Payments to almost ten million eligible pensioners, in over seven million households, before the end of March 1998 has been a challenging task for the Benefits Agency. This was achieved whilst maintaining normal benefit business.Around one and a half million of the poorest pensioners, those receiving Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, received their payment of £50 during January.Almost eight and a half million other eligible pensioners, for example those in receipt of state Retirement Pension, were issued with a payment of £20 or £10. These payments were issued during March.To determine whether £20 or £10 was due it has been necessary to establish whether the pensioner lived alone. Where we identified they were the only eligible pensioner in a household they received £20; where they lived with other eligible pensioners each received £10.Legislation requires that the decision whether £10 or £20 is due is based on information held within official Departmental records. All the £20 and £10 payments issued have therefore been based on information which originated from pensioners and is held within these official records.We are aware from subsequent inquiries from some pensioners that the official records available and used by my Agency did not always accurately reflect the correct, current address details. For example, two eligible pensioners living at the same address have differing address details held in official records and despite expecting to receive £10 each, have received £20 each.However, even though we have subsequently updated the address details the payments themselves remain correct in accordance with the legislation. They have been made using official records which were in place at the time eligibility was determined. The legislation is framed in such a way that providing the payments made are supported by records held then there has not been an incorrect payment.We are therefore not aware of any £10 or £20 payments that have been made in error.Out of the 1.5 million £50 payments made to Income Support and Job Seekers Allowance pensioners in January we are aware that some payments were incorrectly made or duplicated. We know that 9,357 payments were made where information held within official records indicated payment was inappropriate. A further 211 duplicate payments were made to those pensioners who transferred from Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance during the qualifying week of 5 January 1998. Of the relevant payments this represents a 0.68‥ error rate. In financial terms the total cost of these errors amounts to £478,400 and again this represents 0.68‥ of the total sum issued of £72,080,700.469WIn addition we also know that due to a computer operator error, 40,801 Income Support payments were sent out with an incorrect issue date on them. All these girocheques were replaced automatically within 72 hours. To date we are aware that 434 pensioners have cashed both the original and replacement payments.Information is not available on the number of complaints received regarding the erroneous issue of Winter Fuel payments.Thank you for the opportunity to explain the position.