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Saturday, 5 October 2013

Let’s get political – Winter Fuel Payments

Winter Fuel Payment is a contentious issue in the UK – and in Europe, if it comes to that.

Winter Fuel Payment – about £100 (about 116 euros) per year per individual - is a universal benefit paid to overs 60s each year to offset the high cost of heating during the winter months. Higher rates apply for older ages. The biggest bill for winter fuel payments in Europe – outside the UK – is for expats in Spain, followed by France, according to the Department for Work and Pensions figures. In the winter of 2011-12, fuel payments to expat pensioners in Spain was £5.78 million (about 6.7 euros).
Costa Blanca, February
Back in 2008, a Home Office Minister wanted government lawyers to find ways around European law so he could stop winter fuel payments to thousands of pensioners living in the EU. Yet another instance where government mandarins don’t do their homework but think they can get a few votes, particularly by appealing to the politics of envy. That didn’t work. In fact, the EU told the Home Office in no uncertain terms that the allowance should be paid without pre-existing conditions, otherwise they were being discriminatory. I have a vested interest, as I’ve lived in Spain since 2003 and first claimed the allowance last winter (2012-13).

Now, the subject is rearing its head again. Chancellor George Osborne advocates that a ‘temperature test’ should be applied to restrict elderly UK pensioners living in warmer countries from receiving the ‘benefit’ after August 2015.

On the face of it, he’s trying to save the country money, resources are limited, after all. He's probably also hoping it will win votes at the next election. Yet he is applying questionable logic in doing so.
Resources are limited

We’ve already detected a trend as the world’s population gets older and lives longer. Governments are becoming alarmed at the subsequent pension costs. They start to move the goal posts, shifting the qualifying age, changing the rules. The winter fuel payment issue is another example of this. I can’t argue against them changing the rules, per se. I do take issue with them when they attempt to apply dubious science, in the form of ‘temperature tests’.
Costa Blanca, February

Granted, Spain is much warmer than the UK in the winter months, but that’s during the daytime. Evenings in Spain are cold, as any student of geography would confirm. It’s a little disingenuous to apply a ‘temperature test’ at midday, for example. (The photos here were taken after a hailstorm in February, 2005; pretty, aren't they?).

Hailstones, Costa Blanca
Fact. The houses in Spain are not built to retain heat so they still require heating. This heating is in the main supplied by bottled gas and electric heating systems, whose prices have increased considerably over the last six years, thanks to those green taxes. Indeed, expat residents acclimatise and their blood thins so, like the elderly in the UK, they feel the cold more than visiting tourists; walk around in the daytime and you’ll see locals fully clothed, not wearing shorts, while tourists are in T-shirts and shorts. My bottled gas bill for the winter 2011-12 amounted to 1,160 euros (about £981) Shame, they shouldn’t have moved here then, comes Nasty’s response.

Fact. Most pensioners living in Spain are here not only because of the climate, which is considered healthier. They live here because they can’t afford to live in the UK since Gordon Brown raided their pensions. Nasty says, They’re lucky to have a pension, some of us have to work till we’re 70 now!

Fact. Most, if not all, of in excess of 25,600 pensioners living in Spain and claiming the fuel payments actually pay the Chancellor’s and all civil servants’ wages through their taxes. Nasty keeps quiet, perhaps he’s never paid any taxes?

Fact. These same pensioners paid into the system and since the rules entitle them to a monetary benefit, why should he see fit to curtail it simply by virtue of where they live? Since the balmy climate argument doesn’t hold water, perhaps it’s simple envy? Nasty stamps his foot.

The Chancellor sees the continuation of these payments as a problem. The problem is in fact the Home Office and the Treasury and their constant attempts at chipping away at the inalienable rights of expat British who pay their salaries, a fact they’re uncomfortable to acknowledge.

I wonder how much the Government pays its lawyers to ‘get around’ or ‘subvert’ laws. And I wonder too how comfortable their eventual pensions will be, compared to the pensions of those expats living in Spain.

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