If you are one of the many thousands of British pensioners living abroad who have been deprived of the Winter Fuel Allowance, you have an unexpected Christmas present in store this year.
This does not represent any softening of the hard heart of the Treasury: the British government has been forced by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to stop discriminating against those who failed to meet the qualifying criteria even though they had paid into the system all their working lives. The government’s attitude is revealed by the sulky response of Ian Duncan Smith, minister for work and pensions, who threatened to redefine the qualifications to exclude ‘people living in hot countries’, which he appeared to think included France among others. It takes only one winter in most of the OC departments to discover that it is often appreciably colder than in much of England.
Needless to say, your Christmas present is not to be secured without effort and nor is it to be backdated (any more than were disability allowances, also grudgingly paid to expatriate pensioners at the insistence of the ECJ).
To qualify in future, you must have reached women’s state pensionable age (which is gradually to rise to 65 by 2018). This year this means that you must have been born before July 5, 1951. You can obtain the necessary application forms on-line at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Pensionsandretirementplanning/Benefits/BenefitsInRetirement/DG_10018657.
We suggest you get in touch with your ‘Pensions contact’ and find out where to send it, or there might be more information on t’internet by now.
The International Pension Centre in the UK (0044 191 218 7777) is there to deal with any queries between 9am and 9pm (French time).
Martin Hills Winter 2012