THIS week’s big freeze across South Gloucestershire has triggered special government pay outs to thousands of vulnerable people.

Under the cold weather payments system, a lump sum of £25 is paid to those in receipt of benefits such as pension credit for any week in which the temperature is below zero for seven consecutive days.

Temperatures are measured at the Filton weather station and the first payment of the winter was triggered yesterday (Tuesday, January 22) because of last week’s cold weather.

The main people who qualify are pensioners getting pension credit and disabled people or families with young children who are on income-related benefits.

Thornbury and Yate MP and pensions minister Steve Webb is now urging people who qualify for the extra money to claim it as soon as possible.

He said: “Cold weather payments are a vital lifeline to pensioners and disabled people on a low income to provide extra cash support when we face freezing weather conditions.

“For people on qualifying benefits such as pension credit these payments are made automatically and are designed to give people the confidence to keep their home warm in the winter.”

He added: “As a minister I am proud to have reversed the planned cut in cold weather payments and kept them at the rate of £25 per week for the whole of this parliament”.

The MP also pointed out that many lower income pensioners could qualify for help but fail to claim the pension credit they are entitled to, and which triggers entitlement to Cold Weather Payments.

Single pensioners with less than around £140 per week of income, and couples with less than around £210 per week are likely to be entitled to pension credit and can apply using the freephone number 0800 99 1234. If they apply successfully for pension credit soon, they will then be entitled to a backdated payment of the extra £25 cold weather payment that was triggered this week and will get any future payments.