Labour has today warned that the SNP government at Holyrood has left the door open for means-testing the winter fuel allowance.
As part of the new social security powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood needs to pass a new law to set up the agency in control of payments.
The independent experts at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) have now confirmed that the Social Security Bill, as set out by the SNP, will grant wide-ranging powers to ministers to make regulations to proceed with the means-testing of winter fuel payments by current and future governments.
This means SNP ministers could introduce eligibility criteria – and do so with little parliamentary scrutiny.
Professor Paul Spicker , Emeritus Professor of Robert Gordon University outlined concerns about the use of regulations in the Bill in his response to the Social Security Committee consultation.
He said: “Much of this Bill outlines a framework for development rather than making specific proposals for benefits. The character and design of benefits, not just the details, are left to future regulations.”
In October 2015 the SNP government consulted on the possibility of means testing the winter fuel payment – but quickly backed down in the face of a public outcry.
The new policy memo published alongside the draft legislation, however, refers to proposals from the Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Groups which proposed means-testing.
Labour said the SNP must be honest with voters about its intentions.
Labour’s social security spokesperson Mark Griffin said: “Scotland has massive new powers over social security, and will have an opportunity to shape a Scottish welfare state that, like the NHS, is there for us when we need it.
“The winter fuel allowance, introduced by Labour, has helped millions of pensioners across the UK. People think if they have paid into the system they deserve something back.
“Instead, now the SNP government has drafted legislation to set up a social security agency that leaves the door open for means testing. If that is the plan – and we know the last SNP government had considered it – then the SNP needs to be honest with voters.
“Labour’s better deal for pensioners means we will protect the triple lock on the state pension, the winter fuel allowance and the free bus pass.”