UK winter fuel payments stirring up controversy

Britain may be facing legal action over its decision to cut winter fuel payments (WFP) for more than 100,000 UK expat pensioners living in European Economic Areas (EEA) including Portugal, after Chancellor George Osborne revealed plans for a “temperature test”.

A ruling by the European Court of Justice had already predicted that the UK would be forced to pay out to all 444,000 British pensioners living abroad up to a total amount of £100 million. Normally, people were only eligible for the winter fuel payment if they were living in Britain at the age of 60 and then moved abroad.

The WFPs are meant to serve as a contribution for UK citizens and expats’ electricity bills during the cold winter months.

However, the UK government’s proposal suggests that pensioners living in EEA countries should lose their right to the winter fuel payments if they live in a region with a higher average winter temperature than the warmest region of the UK.

If the plan were to be accepted, the action would affect nearly 120,000 UK expats living throughout seven European countries, including Portugal, and save the British government nearly £30 million a year after 2015/16, the time when it is expected to be put into force.

The UK Treasury said the test would rely on climate data and comparison of average winter temperatures from the warmest region of the UK with average temperatures for other European countries, over a 29-year period.

Osborne said: “We will act to ensure that we will stop the cost of paying the Winter Fuel Payments made to those who live abroad rising in a way that no one ever intended. Paying out even more money to people from all nationalities who may have worked in this country years ago but no longer live here is not a fair use of the nation’s cash.”

The fact that richer pensioners who have sought colder countries will continue to receive the payments, while poorer pensioners will lose it if they live in warmer areas, has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy among UK expats.

Petitions have been launched online concerning this and also regarding the fact that UK citizens are not allowed to vote after 15 years of living abroad. |