Ex-pats get winter fuel allowance: UK pensioners lose out

Spanish beachManu Fernandez/AP/Press Association Images

Government plans mean that pensioners in the south of England could lose their winter fuel allowance because the weather is too mild - while expat pensioners still coin it in.

So how can this be right?

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Temperature test

The government announced plans yesterday to introduce a 'temperature test' for the winter fuel payment.

At the moment if you are over 60, you receive a payment of up to £200 to help meet the higher cost of heating your home over the winter (for families with someone over the age of 80 this can be up to £300). The payment is usually made in November or December, and is paid to everyone regardless of their income or location.
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It has long-been contentious because European laws mean that expats who turned 60 before leaving the country, and left after the payment was introduced in 1998, are entitled to receive the allowance. To make matters even more expensive, the European Court of Justice has thrown this out and said that in order to qualify, pensioners only need "a genuine and sufficient link" to the UK. It means around 440,000 expat pensioners get the payment - at a cost of £100 million.

The test is designed to ensure that the payment isn't paid to pensioners sitting on balmy beaches in the sunshine, to avoid wasting the cash on people who don't need it.


Twist

However, in an odd twist, the test will apply in the UK too, which will create a strange situation, where milder parts of the UK may miss out, while ex-pats in relatively warm parts of the world keep receiving the cash. So, for example, in Plymouth, the average low temperature for February is around 41F. This is warmer than Madrid, Rome and Frankfurt at this time of year.

We will have to wait and see how exacting the tests are, and how much of the UK misses out. Ideally, only those areas where their climates are unusually mild, will miss out, and these people should be relatively comfortable in their homes at higher temperatures.

Worst case

In the worst case scenario, the south of England could be shivering this year - with record high fuel bills and no assistance.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's Director General, said: "The winter fuel payment is an important income boost for many people on a low state pension, providing a lifeline to many vulnerable older people and allowing them to worry less about their fuel bills. Winter fuel payments are simple to understand and generally do not need to be claimed, avoiding the complexity of means-testing. While the introduction of a temperature test could allay concerns about ex-pats in hot countries receiving the payment, it is important that proposals for change do not complicate the system or result in those in need losing out."

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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