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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 12:10 GMT
Thousands missing out on benefits

Thousands are set to miss out on winter fuel payments if they don't get their claims in soon.

Claims have to be in by the end of March and it is estimated that up to 45,000 people have yet to apply.

Yet it is not always easy or straightforward to get hold of the benefit.

One Working Lunch viewer has been trying to get hold of the payment for the last three years.

Roger Ball first applied for the benefit in 2000, but he was told he was too young. In 2001, when he should have qualified, he didn't apply in time, according to social services. And there's no chance of a back payment.

This year, however, he has received his payment.

As someone who's always worked and paid his taxes he feels the system is unfair.

It's not fair. I wasn't informed I could get it.
Roger Ball

For women over 60 and those receiving the state pension or other benefits, the payment is automatic. Men, like Roger, aged 60 - 64, who are not eligible for a state pension, must apply.

According to the Liberal Democrats there may be up to 9m lying unclaimed.

They believe the government could do more to help. But Help the Aged, which campaigns on behalf of the elderly, believes that the public are aware of the benefits.

The charity's Mervyn Kohler says that the scheme has had lots of publicity.

People do understand that you have to make a claim
Mervyn Kohler, Help the Aged

The allowance is worth 200 a head, and everyone over the age of 60 is entitled to it. But that hasn't always been the case.

Men between 60 and 65 only qualified after an EU ruling said the original entitlement was discriminatory.

If you did not claim for the 1997-99 winters, and it is estimated that there are 700,000 people who haven't, then you can still get the payments owed to you.

But if you miss the deadline for this year, there's no second chance.

For more information call the winter fuel helpline 08459 15 15 15.

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