The UK press was full of reports last week about the ‘anger’ generated when the amount of money that is paid out to ex pat UK pensioners who receive the winter fuel allowance was made public. Mathew Elliott of the Taxpayer’s alliance was quoted as saying that the current budget deficit in the United Kingdom would have to be got under control and, “cuts in unnecessary benefits are going to be essential. That pinch will be felt at home but we should start with winter fuel payments to retirees in the Algarve.” It did not just apply to the Algarve by the way, but to Spain, Greece, Bulgaria in fact all those European countries clearly deemed by Mr Elliott to be in the ‘warmer winter’ category.
He went on to say, “These payments are an unnecessary luxury which taxpayers can no longer afford. To balance the books we need to identify any and every area of excessive spending, and heating the homes of people in Mediterranean countries is a clear example. Given that people back in snowy Britain can’t afford to pay their bills, it is simply wrong to subsidise those who have retired to sunny climes.”
Maria Wardrobe from the campaign group National Energy Action added, “It would be much better if that money stayed in this country (the UK) and helped deserving people who don’t get any help.”
The figures released by the Department of Works and Pensions showed that 63,470 ex-pats living in various European countries are claiming the benefit currently which amounts in total to about 14 million pounds. Under EU law, the UK is not allowed to discriminate between those UK national pensioners living in the UK and those living in another EU country as long as they meet the criteria, which in this case is that they must have been resident in the UK at age 60 to qualify. The benefit is not means tested at present either and has been in place for over 10 years and paid out 2.7 billion pounds in total last year to 12.3 million people according to official figures.
Actually the real nonsense about the winter fuel allowance is the criteria set for receiving it. Since Pam and I did not live in the UK during a particular week when we were 60, we don’t get the allowance. Those that did qualify, will continue to receive payments for life. If we had rented accommodation in the UK for the qualifying period then we would have been in that group.