By Humphrey Carter

BRITISH expatriates were under fire yesterday for having claimed millions of pounds in cold weather payments last year.
According to the TaxPayers' Alliance, a British pressure group formed in 2004 to campaign for a low tax society, nearly 65'000 Britons living in European countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece, receive state-funded winter fuel payments and the pressure group is calling for such payments to be stopped.

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 pounds could be coming 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, yesterday 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.” Sources for Age Concern here in Majorca were very surprised by the news yesterday and warned that should those entitled to the cold weather payments lose it, they will be forced to move back to the UK because many are finding it hard enough to survive on their pensions because of the drop in the strength of the pound and the rise in the cost of living here on the island.

Obviously, not all pensioners are entitled to the financial top up, but losing it would throw many into a serious predicament.
Ironically, the report has been published at a time when the Conservative MP for North Thanet and close friend of Tories Abroad in Majorca, Roger Gale is fighting the tough battle to secure that “exportable” benefits are paid to UK expatriates.

Despite having been ordered to comply with European Law and pay the benefits by the European Court of Justice last year, the government is continuing to ignore the EU order. “People are dying because of the government's refusal to comply with EU law,” Gale said, although he does appear to have broken some ground over recent weeks and the government is apparently working with Gale to find a solution.

Complying with the EU Court order and paying overseas benefits is going to be part of the Conservative Party's election manifesto, providing Labour are unable to force a change in EU law in the meantime.

But, while the likes of Roger Gale, Age Concern and other associations as well as the British Consul to the Balearics, Paul Abrey, continue to fight the corner for expatriates on the issue of benefits, the response from the community has been described as “luke warm.” Next month, the Consul intends to bring a team from the Department for Work and Pensions back to Majorca to offer expatriates the opportunity of raising the issue of benefits, and any others, with the DWP face-to-face, but organisers are finding it hard gauging whether the expatriate community will turn out to consult the professionals on a range of very important issues which directly affect their existence here in Majorca.

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