According to the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, British pensioners living abroad in countries warmer than the UK received more than £16 million in winter fuel payments last year, ‘Famagusta Gazette’ reports.
Official figures, published by the Pensions Department, show that £1.4 million is sent to expats in Cyprus, with £8 million sent to pensioners living in Spain and £5 million to those in France.
The payments, of up to £300 a year tax-free, are intended to help the elderly with heating bills.
Last year, however, the UK daily ‘Telegraph’ reported that:
“Payments worth up to £300 annually will be halted for 92,983 of Britons living abroad in countries like Spain, France, Greece and Portugal.”
In 2015, countries will be subjected to a ‘temperature test’ and if the annual average temperature is higher than the UK’s warmest region (5.6C) no payment will be made. Italy, however, will not be included in the ‘temperature test’ as its winter climate in its northern region is colder than a British winter,
Up until 2012, people living abroad were only entitled to the winter fuel allowance if they emigrated when they were over the age of 60.
However, a ruling by the European Court of Justice in that year ruled that the UK could be forced to pay the benefit to all 440,000 ex-pat pensioners, at a potential cost of more than £100million.
In February this year, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“The huge increase in UK winter fuel payments made to people living in European countries equates to a near doubling in costs to the British taxpayer and follows a ridiculous ruling by the European Court of Justice.
“The winter fuel payment is intended to help British pensioners with heating costs.
“From winter 2015/16, we are changing the rules so that it no longer goes to people in European countries with an average winter temperature higher than the warmest part of the UK.” ‘MailOnline’
Following the controversial decision, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to protect pensioner’s benefits until 2015.