Retired expats get winter fuel payment

Updated: 

Mature couple on beachPA

Winter fuel payments attract enough criticism already for the fact they pay out to everyone, no matter how wealthy, leaving millionaires eligible for the benefit. Now it emerges that expats are getting the benefit too - so those sitting on the beach in Australia can claim the money to pay their cocktail bill.

And the number claiming overseas is climbing.

Expats paid

The fact it is a universal benefit for all pensioners leads to this sort of anomaly. If you're going to offer it to everyone, then UK pensioners living in sunnier climes will be eligible too - as long as they were based in the UK when they first qualified for the payments.

In fact, expats received a stunning £13.4 million in winter fuel payments this year - up from £6.9million in 2006.

The figures were announced by Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, who told the Daily Mail: "It is farcical to be spraying out winter fuel payment cheques all around the Mediterranean. The toast as they sip their sangrias in the sun at the Malaga golf club must be David Cameron and George Osborne."

Is it fair?

And while there's clearly no argument against the fact that people who paid into the UK system for the whole of their working lives should be entitled to their pension at the end of it, the winter fuel payment is another matter.

If it's not even winter - or your winter is roughly as chilly as the average summer day in the UK - then clearly this money is totally unnecessary. We shouldn't be paying expats, in just the same way that millionaires should not be receiving payments.

Clearly it is time for a complete overhaul of the system. We can only keep our fingers crossed that any changes wouldn't just be used as an excuse to make payments less generous for those who really need them.

In the meantime, Saga is asking anyone who does not need the money to donate it to their Surviving Winter campaign to provide help for the most vulnerable in heating their homes.

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