Almost £15million of UK taxpayers’ money has been handed out to elderly Brits who now live abroad, new figures have revealed. The official numbers show that around 640,000 Europe based expat retirees took advantage of the winter fuel payments, in place to help the elderly cope with the winter climate.
With freezing temperatures across the globe claims for the allowance grew by 14 percent this year. UK pensioners immediately qualify to receive £250 per year when they hit 60, with the sum rising to £400 at the age of 80. The grey area that arises is that pensioners who don’t actually live in England still get the allowance. The plan is not operated on a means-tested basis and it is thought that up to 50,000 households with a high income, over £100,000 per year, still received the payment.
The Labour Party introduced the scheme back in 1997 in a bid to stamp out fuel poverty. Last year 12.3 million pensioners claimed the payment totalling £2.7 billion. Out of England, an unprecedented 63,740 Brit expats also claimed the sum, many of which live in places such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. This increased figure led to the total outgoing payments rising from £9.5 million to £14 million.
EU law states that the payments must be paid to all Brits who qualified for the payment when they turned 60, regardless of whether they have since moved on to other shores. With winters getting harsher figures suggest that 5.1 million homes in the UK fall under the banner of fuel poverty; the definition being households that are forced to spend over 10 percent of their income on fuel and energy.
Director of the campaign group National Energy Action, Maria Wardrobe, feels that the money should stay in England. Speaking to The Telegraph she said: “It would be much better if that money stayed in this country and helped deserving people who don’t get any help here.”
Another detractor, the chief executive of TaxPayer’s Alliance, Matthew Elliot 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.”
However, not everyone sees the scheme as a great burden, Pensions Minister, Angela Eagle swooped to defend the program: “Less than 1 percent of winter fuel payments are made to people outside the UK, who all qualified for these payments before they moved abroad.”