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Winter fuel benefits for expats 'could faxe axe'

Tue 1st Jun 2010

Winter fuel allowances for the thousands of British pensioners living in Spain could be the next target for the axe as the new UK coalition Government continues in its drive to cut the national debt.

This move alone is expected to save UK taxpayers up to £14 million per year but is also expected to be given a rough ride in the EU parliament.

Sources close to the Government reported that the feeling was that it "did not seem fair" that when money was tight, people, sometimes with second homes abroad, were drawing fuel allowances to keep them warm through the winter months when they were, in fact, living in hot Mediterranean climates. "This is going to be investigated," they added.

There are currently around 65,000 Britons living in European countries including Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece who are receiving state-funded winter fuel payments designed to help them cope with cold weather even though temperatures in some european countries remain comparatively warmer than the UK during these winter months.

The allowances are often paid directly into the recipient's bank account, and can be worth between £125 and £400 per year. If the 63,740 expats currently eligible for the average amount of this benefit, then a total of almost £14m is being spent every year.

The benefit is paid to all citizens of the UK, aged 60 or over, who are ‘ordinarily resident' in the UK. It is also paid to former residents who have moved to the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, as they continue to be entitled if they qualified before leaving the country. The allowance is £250 a year or £400 for those over 80.

Over 63'000 pensioners in EEA countries qualified for the payments, with 12.3m receiving payments in the UK. Around £2.7 billion is spent overall on the payments each year.

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