Ex-miners to get 'coal or cash' offer under Osborne plan
Chancellor George Osborne has announced a financial boost for former pit workers during a trip to one of England's remaining deep coal mines.
He said the government would guarantee 400 pit workers recently made redundant a free delivery of coal every year worth £1,300 or a £600 in cash instead.
A further 1,000 retired workers will also get help under a concessionary fuel scheme dating back to the 1980s.
Mr Osborne said he was determined to help people with rising energy bills.
The chancellor went below ground with pit staff at Thoresby colliery in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire's last remaining deep coal mine.
About 69,000 former mine workers or their families currently receive a fuel allowance from government each year under the terms of National Concessionary Fuel Scheme.
Friday's announcement will mean that a further 1,500 former mine workers, who would otherwise have lost their benefits following the recent collapse of UK Coal, will now be brought into the scheme.
The commitment is expected to cost under £2m a year.
In July, UK Coal said that two of its companies had gone into administration following a major fire at its Daw Mill colliery in Warwickshire, which has subsequently been closed.
But UK Coal announced it was setting up a new company to operate Thoresby, the Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire and six surface mines.
Mr Osborne said it was "important to support a group of people who through no fault of their own had lost out" and demonstrated the government's wish to support workers in all industries across the country.
He said he had been urged to intervene by local politicians, including Conservative MP for Sherwood Mark Spencer.
"There were ex-miners who lost the concessionary coal they were getting because the company they work for went bust," the chancellor added.
"I am determined to help those ex-miners so the government is going to step in and pay for the concessionary coal."
But Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, who has been campaigning to save the miners' fuel allowance, said ministers had "caved" in to pressure in the face of potential legal action.
"The concessionary fuel allowance is a contractual obligation to be paid to former miners and in some cases their widows," he said. "It is not a benefit, but part of what these former miners are owed."
"My constituents now need the fuel as soon as possible so that they can heat their homes this winter."
The National Concessionary Fuel Agreements were put in place between the state-owned British Coal Corporation and the mining unions in the 1980s.
When British Coal was privatised in 1994, the government retained the obligation to provide concessionary fuel to former British Coal workers entitled to it.
The responsibility passed to UK Coal, when the company restructured its operations and changed its name in 2001.