Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has confirmed more than 90,000 British expat pensioners will lose the winter fuel allowance worth up to £300 annually from next year.
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Scrapping the allowance will save the government £17 million a year and helps Prime Minister David Cameron keep pledges about benefits savings in the run up to the 2015 general election.
From April 6, 2015, only pensioners living in European countries with an average annual temperature lower than 5.6 centigrade will be paid the benefit.
As most British expats live in Southern Europe, they will be caught in a ‘sun trap’ that does not take account of temperature variations between balmy Mediterranean coasts and much cooler mountainous regions.
This means thousands of pensioners in Spain, France, Portugal and Greece will lose the benefit, even if their average winter temperature where they live is colder than in the UK, as the hotter coastal regions will lift the national average.
Italy outside the suntrap
Italian expat pensioners will still receive the allowance as cold winters in the north haul down the annual average temperature.
Duncan Smith claims the decision is the result of a recent change in EU law allowing pensioners of any nationality who could prove sufficient links to the UK could apply for the allowance.
The government says that since the ruling, the annual amount paid out in winter fuel allowance surged by 70%.
Around £21.4 million was paid in winter fuel allowance during 2012/13 to more than 115,000 claimants. Only £12.8 million was handed out the year before the ruling.
Britain’s biggest expat community is in Spain where 50,000 expats enjoy temperatures in December and January of up to 17 centigrade.
Those over 60 receive £200 winter fuel allowance, while those over 80 receive £300 costing taxpayers £8.85 million a year.
The second biggest British expat group is in France, where almost 29,000 people receive £5.12 million a year while basking in temperatures of up to 13 centigrade during winter.
“This ridiculous ruling by the European courts has nearly doubled the cost of the winter fuel allowance paid by British taxpayers,” said Duncan Smith. “The allowance was never intended for this, it was aimed at helping the worst off pensions in Britain keep warm during the winter.
“Those living in Europe knew what the winters would be like before they chose to move. From the winter of 2015, the rules will change so that only those living in parts of Europe with average winter temperatures equal or colder to those in the UK will benefit.”
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