Winter fuel payment is a state benefit which will help those born on or before October 5 1954 with their heating bills. For eligible recipients, it is possible to get between £100 and £300 from the government to help with mounting heating costs.
It is usually possible to get winter fuel payments automatically if a person hits the age requirements and lived in the UK for at least one day during the week of 21 to 27 September 2020, known as the qualifying week.
Additionally, claimants will need to get a state pension or other kind of social security benefit not including housing benefit, council tax reduction, child benefit or Universal Credit.
However, despite the fact that winter fuel payments are meant to be issued automatically, the Work and Pensions Committee expressed concern over the DWPs handling of the support.
Stephen Timms wrote to Peter Schofield, the Permanent Secretary for the DWP, yesterday noting the committee has heard people are struggling to contact the department about their winter fuel payments.
“Following this, many of the people affected have struggled to get through to the Department’s Debt Management team because of the high volume of calls to the service.
“This has, quite understandably, caused them a significant amount of worry and, in some cases, distress. In a written PQ answer of December 10, the Minister for Welfare Delivery said that Debt Management agents had answered 78 percent of calls in November 2020, compared to the Department’s target of answering 90 percent.
“These figures do not, however, include all calls to the system. The answer also explained that some calls do not “make it into the system”: at the height of the recent problems, an average of over 51,000 calls were blocked per day.
“I recognise that the Department has taken steps to avoid a recurrence of this problem, which arose because many more notifications than usual were sent by an automated system in November. Nevertheless, the number of blocked calls—in the latest period for which figures are available—is still “less than 6,000”.
The DWP has been swamped with unprecedented demand this year as coronavirus wreaked havoc on the economy.
With Universal Credit alone it was recently revealed around 5.8 million claimed the support since March and StepChange warned as many as 2.5 million people are facing a financial crisis.
The DWP have attempted to meet this demand by going on a major recruitment expansion in recent months, with more than 6,000 staff reportedly being brought on between early 2020 and November.
Additionally, the DWP has hired a number of people who were previously on benefits themselves in an attempt to help with the claiming process.