Charities Minister Nick Hurd told The Daily Telegraph he would congratulate any pensioner who chose to give away the allowance - worth GBP200 for the over 60s rising to GBP300 for the over 80s. His intervention comes at a time when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been pressing for a stop to universal benefits, such as the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes, going to the wealthiest pensioners.
David Cameron, however, has made clear that he his determined to stick to the Conservatives' general election manifesto commitment to maintain universal benefits for the elderly. Mr Hurd said that while the Government would honour its pledges, he would welcome pensioners who chose of their own accord to give the money to good causes.
"The Government is going to stick to its commitments," he said. "But if people take their own decisions that they want to use (the
money) for good, of course, as minister for charity, I would support, congratulate and encourage them."
A campaign allowing pensioners to "recycle" some or all of their winter fuel payment to help those who are struggling with energy bills has already raised GBP1 million this year. The Community Foundation Network's Surviving Winter Campaign is backed by celebrities including Sir David Jason, Sir Terry Wogan, Dame Vera Lynn and Johnny Ball, as well as Saga, which has loudly opposed means-testing of the winter fuel payment. Donations can be made at www.survivingwinter.org.uk.
Recent research from Saga amongst 8,500 over-50s found that more than half (58%) were worrying about the costs of heating their homes this winter, while 35% - the equivalent of 7 million people - are already struggling with heating bills. One in four older people were cutting their spending to afford heating, while more than half (53%) were wearing extra clothes inside at home - increasing to 64% amongst women - according to the poll.
Saga director-general Ros Altmann said: "Every year, the winter freeze poses a very real problem for older people struggling to keep warm. Recent figures from ONS show that 24,000 pensioners died of cold last winter in the UK. While this is a welcome reduction from over 26,000 the previous year, this shocking statistic shows that much more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable in society over the coldest months of the year.
"Saga is fully behind the Surviving Winter venture, helping channel donations into the right hands and helping older people keep warm and well. It need not only be pensioners who donate money to the campaign - anyone can help a vulnerable person with their heating bills.
"Nick Clegg argued earlier this month that we have to take pensioner benefits such as Winter Fuel Payments away from wealthy pensioners. This may be a populist headline, but it is absolutely the wrong policy. Winter Fuel Payments are an essential lifeline for many pensioners during the cold winter months and this initiative facilitates a way for those who don't feel they need the money to recycle it to someone who is struggling with the cost of heating."