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Expats claim winter fuel benefits from UK

Tue 16th Feb 2010

Nearly 65,000 Britons living in European countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece are receiving state-funded winter fuel payments designed to help them cope with cold weather, it has emerged.

The payments are worth between £125 and £400 each winter and if the 63,740 expatriates are receiving the average amount, a total of almost £14 million could be going abroad.

The taxpayer-funded benefit is paid to all British citizens aged 60 or more who are ordinarily resident in the UK, and former residents who move to the European Economic Area or Switzerland continue to be entitled if they qualified before leaving the country.

Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, called for an end to payments to people living overseas.

He said: "To get the deficit under control, cuts in unnecessary benefits are going to be essential. We should start with winter fuel payments to retirees in the Algarve."

The payment was introduced shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 and is usually paid directly into bank accounts. Under European Union law, Britain cannot discriminate against people who live elsewhere in the EU.

The Department for Work and Pensions said that 63,740 pensioners in EEA countries qualified for the payments, compared to 12.3 million in the UK. Around £2.7 billion is spent on the payments each year.

Pensions minister Angela Eagle said: "Less than one per cent of Winter Fuel Payments are made to people outside the UK, who all qualified for these payments before they moved abroad."

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