Totals of UK expat pensioners winter fuel payments slashed following crackdown

Published:  22 Sep at 4 PM
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The recent crackdown on payment of winter fuel allowances to UK expat pensioners living overseas has resulted in the total cost of providing the benefit falling by two-thirds.

The British government’s bill for winter fuel payments to pensioners living outside the UK has fallen dramatically since new rules for its entitlement were brought in. The winter of 2015/2016 saw just 42,015 pensioners resident in EU member states receiving the benefit, a striking contrast to the 2014/2015 payments to 137,845 expat retirees.

Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was responsible for the change in entitlement rules, justifying its introduction by suggesting pensioners living in hot countries were milking the system. The payment, worth £200 to pensioners over 60 and £300 to those over 80, was referred to in governmental spin as a ‘sunshine benefit’, but did not take into account the huge number of expat pensioners living in places where summers were warm but winters were often far colder than in the UK.

Duncan Smith also blamed a European Court of Justice ruling for what he referred to as a ‘ridiculous’ burden on government coffers, and introduced the controversial ‘temperature test’ as a justification for slashing the benefit. Expat residents in any country where the average temperature was higher than that in the southwest of England were deprived of the benefit as a result.

Pensioners in most Mediterranean countries were denied the benefit, with the exception of those living in Italy due to its cold winter climate, resulting in additional allowable claims from Brits in the warmer southern Italian regions and on Sicily. However, those living in chilly Northern France were excluded, and the new regulations caused dismay and anger amongst pensioners living in northern Spain, along the seacoast of the English Channel in France and in many other inland destinations.

Objections to the new rules include the fact that calculating averages as regards temperatures on a year-round basis does not take into account that higher summer temperatures than in the UK can slew the results but not allowing for the much colder winter temperatures found everywhere on the European mainland. For example, winters on Cyprus are exceptionally cold even by European standards, whilst the summers are far hotter than in the UK.
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