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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Cold snap payments cost millions

By Paul Lewis
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Snow on holly berries
Already 14 weather stations have seen seven days at zero or below

The government has paid out 12m to half a million people after the coldest start to winter for 30 years.

Cold weather payments are made to people over 60 who get pension credit and to younger people on means-tested benefits if they are disabled or have a child under five.

The 25 payment is made if the temperature is freezing or below for seven consecutive days.

It is just one of three extra benefits people may get this winter.

Widespread cold

The cold weather payments are triggered by weather reports from 76 weather stations around the UK run by the Meteorological Office.

Whenever the temperature at a station falls to zero or below on seven consecutive days a payment is made to people who qualify in all the postcodes associated with that station.

They are also made if the Met Office forecasts a seven day period of below freezing temperatures.

It will really help to give an extra boost when the weather is cold
Sally West, Age Concern
Already 14 weather stations as far apart as Manchester, Newcastle, Powys and Inverness have reported at least one such period - some in Scotland have had two.

That has triggered payments to half a million people on pension credit, income support, and income related job-seekers allowance and employment and support allowance.

People under 60 have to have a disability premium or a child under five to qualify.

The payments were increased this winter from 8.50 a week to 25.

And Age Concern's policy manager, Sally West, told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme they are now a useful amount.

"It will really help to give an extra boost when the weather is cold."

Other benefits

Cold weather payments are not the only benefit available for people this winter.

Every household where at least one person living there was aged 60 or more by 21 September 2008 should get a winter fuel payment of 250 - or 400 if someone was aged 80 or more.

People aged 60-64 may have to claim.

And people who get state pension or some other benefits will also get a new higher Christmas bonus - the 10 paid this month will be boosted by another 60 paid in the new year.

People who have reached pension age but have deferred receiving their pension do not qualify for the Christmas bonus.

Sally West says the money is "another payment which people can put towards fuel or whatever other bills they are getting."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday,
20 December 2008 at 1204 GMT.

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20 Dec 08 |  Moneybox
Brown unveils 910m fuel measures
11 Sep 08 |  Politics


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