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The UK’s decision to cut the Winter Fuel Payment for expatriates living in Spain has been met with a frosty reception
14.08.13 - 11:36 -
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Winter fuel cut could be illegal, hints EU official
Many are angry at the move to scrap the Winter Fuel Payment for British expats in Spain. :: SUR
A European Union official has this week hinted in a French newspaper that the UK government’s decision to scrap the Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) for British expatriates in Spain and other “hot countries” might prove to be illegal.
Speaking to the Connexion publication, the EU social affairs spokesman observed that similar benefit cuts had resulted in legal challenges. He is quoted as saying: “This UK benefit is similar to the Slovak ‘Christmas Benefit’ which is also paid to persons above pensionable age. The [European] Commission decided in April to refer Slovakia to the EU’s Court of Justice because it considers this benefit as a normal old-age benefit which should also be paid to all pensioners residing outside Slovakia.”
The Commission, however, will not be able to launch any potential proceedings until the UK presents its bill on this issue.
The official’s comments come after the UK Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that from autumn 2015 British pensioners living in countries with “hot” climates will no longer be eligible to receive a Winter Fuel Payment.
He asserted that the cost of this benefit was increasing “in a way that no one ever intended.” This was a reference to a European Court of Justice decision last year, which overruled the denial of the Winter Fuel Payment to a British citizen living in Spain because she had left the UK before she had begun claiming the welfare benefit. The Court decided that the individual had demonstrated a “genuine and sufficient link” to Britain through its social security and National Insurance systems.
Mr Osborne insisted that the result would mean payouts to “people from all nationalities who may have worked in this country years ago but no longer live here.” As such, future claims, he stated, would be forced to undergo a “temperature test.” The countries affected by this would be Spain, Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta and Portugal.
The UK’s decision to drop the Winter Fuel Payment to those in warmer countries has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been met with fury from many British retirees in Malaga.
Mijas resident Eleanor Cunningham, a retired nurse from Birmingham, tells SUR in English: “I am outraged about this. We’re not ‘draining the system’ as we perhaps could do more if we lived in the UK and used all the country’s services to which we would be entitled, and yet the government wants to take away this minimal benefit.
“We have paid into the system all our lives and should get what others back home get – it’s totally unfair to take it away from people because they have decided to move overseas, which they are perfectly entitled to do.”
Michael Stamp, who lives near Antequera, adds: “The removal of the Winter Fuel Payment is simply cruel. Winters can be just as cold here in southern Spain as they are in the UK – sometimes even colder especially as most homes are not insulated the way UK homes are. The winters just don’t last as long.
“I’m staggered they are considering this at a time when many pensioners have seen the real value of their pensions fall in recent years, making life much harder, financially, for so many older expats.”