This weekend, Iain Duncan Smith sparked a furore when a Sunday Telegraph interview quoted him as saying he would ‘encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn’t need [their winter fuel allowance], to hand it back’. This morning, however, he appears to have offered a retraction, telling the Today programme that ‘I’m neither encouraging nor discouraging anybody to hand their money back’, adding that if pensioners are eligible, ‘it’s wholly their money to take if they wish.’ And his colleague Ken Clarke claimed there wasn’t even a mechanism for doing this.

So, if you normally spend your winter fuel payment on your family’s Christmas presents or on restocking your wine supplies, can you hand it back to the government? And how?

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The DWP does have a helpline (0845 915 1515) which as Duncan-Smith points out has always been on its website, and which allows people to call and ask for their payment to be stopped, either as a one-off, or permanently. If your winter fuel money has already arrived, you can send it back by cheque to the ‘Winter Fuel Payment Team’ along with a letter explaining that you don’t want the money in the future, either.

Or you can, as Nick Hurd recommended this winter, donate the money the government gives you for something you don’t need help with to charity. UK Community Foundations is one organisation actively seeking donations from better-off pensioners in order to tackle real fuel poverty.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was quite clear this morning that ‘the Prime Minister made a promise and he intends to stick by that promise’. So if you wonder why you’re getting help from the government, it’s up to you to give it back, until 2015 at least.

Tags: Benefits, DWP, Iain Duncan Smith, Ken Clarke, Nick Hurd, pensioner benefits, Winter fuel payment