By Humphrey Carter

THE Conservative MP for Thanet North, Roger Gale, yesterday won a significant victory for British expatriates after the government finally climbed down over its refusal to pay exportable benefits, despite having been ordered to by the European Union Court of Justice and warned that it was breaking European Union law.

Gale has been fighting the battle on behalf of expatriates who have seen their exportable benefits axed for the past year and on Wednesday, in a letter from Jonathan Shaw MP, the Minister for Disabled People and Minister for the South East, Shaw informed Gale of the government's climb down and also apologised blaming European Union terminology and the way in which disability benefits “have been classified under European Law at different times as Invalidity benefits” for the government's refusal to pay exportable benefits.

Shaw states on behalf of the government “we will therefore pay people where reinstatement is appropriate on a statutory basis from the date of their request for reinstatement after the judgment (that they are eligible) and will consider an extra-statutory payment for the interim period from 18 October 2007.” Gale described the development as only a “small victory” from his point of view because he would have liked to have seen the claims back dated further and there remains a few gray areas such as what, if any, benefits British expatriates who may have become disabled since they left the UK and moved abroad within the European Union entitled to.

DIFFICULT “Britons in this situation may find it difficult to meet the requirements and it is not clear how one goes about proving a medical condition being overseas,” Gale explained. “But, yes, this is a climb down on behalf of the government and a significant development for expatriates,” Gale told the Bulletin last night. “So, I recommend that all claimants now write (keep a copy, please) to the Exportability Unit giving National Insurance Number and current address and formally request reinstatement of benefits in the light of the Government statement. “ This applies, equally, to the surviving partners orrelatives of those who have, sadly, passed away while awaiting a determination of this issue,” Gale said. “I have two cases involving the deaths of British expatriates who had their exportable benefits cancelled but their widows or estates have money owed and this I believe should still be forthcoming,” he added. “However, it is clear in the letter that this Government seeks to cap its liability - not surprisingly - and to apply the ‘past presence' test to any fresh claims from expatriate EU residents. “ This is a matter that the European Commission may have to address as to my unqualified eye it would appear to conflict with the European Court of Justice ruling, as I said, there are still a few gray areas,” Gale added.

A small victory for Gale but a huge victory for all of the expatriates who have had their benefits cancelled. “As I have been driving home to the government over the past year, many of these people are sick and ill and under the current economic climate with the weak Pound against the Euro, many have found themselves in very serious, if not life threatening, predicaments. “But, before moving abroad, they were British tax payers for most of their lives and, as European Union law makes clear, are entitled to these benefits,” Gale underlined to the Bulletin over the telephone from the House of Commons last night.