More than 100,000 expats to lose winter fuel allowance after Osborne reveals plans for 'temperature test' for the benefit

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  • Chancellor will unveil proposals to restrict expats from claiming the benefit
  • He will confirm today there is to be a crackdown on the ‘sunshine benefits’
  • Almost £2million goes abroad every week to claimants

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 17:21 EST, 25 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:29 EST, 26 June 2013

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More than 100,000 expat pensioners face losing winter fuel payments as George Osborne today reveals plans for a ‘temperature test’.

The Chancellor will unveil proposals to restrict elderly Britons living in warmer countries from claiming the benefit – worth up to £300 a year – according to government sources.

There has been increasing controversy over pensioners’ free TV licences, bus passes and winter fuel payments, with half the Cabinet arguing that they should be limited if further squeezes on working-age welfare are to be justified.

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Cuts: More than 100,000 expat pensioners face losing winter fuel payments as George Osborne today reveals plans for a 'temperature test'.

Cuts: More than 100,000 expat pensioners face losing winter fuel payments as George Osborne today reveals plans for a 'temperature test'.

David Cameron pledged at the last election that the fuel payments would be protected until 2015, leading to months of wrangling over whether expats should also keep their benefits.

However the Chancellor will confirm in today’s spending review that there is to be a crackdown on the so-called ‘sunshine benefits’ after the next election.

Almost £2million goes abroad every week to claimants who qualify for welfare despite leaving the UK.

It is expected that pensioners living in European countries, who can currently claim a range of benefits, will lose winter fuel payments if they live in a region with a higher average winter temperature than the warmest region of the UK.

This system would disqualify an estimated 120,000 people and save £30million a year after 2015/16, when it is expected to come into force.

Controversially, richer pensioners who have emigrated to colder countries will continue to receive the payments, while poorer pensioners will lose it if they live in warmer areas.

Plans: The Chancellor will unveil proposals to restrict elderly Britons living in warmer countries from claiming the benefit ¿ worth up to £300 a year ¿ according to government sources

Plans: The Chancellor will unveil proposals to restrict elderly Britons living in warmer countries from claiming the benefit - worth up to £300 a year - according to government sources

Traditionally, people have only been eligible for the winter fuel payment if they were living in Britain at the age of 60 and then moved abroad.

But thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the UK could be forced to pay out to all 444,000 British pensioners living abroad – costing us up to £100million a year.

The court insisted that any elderly expat should be able to get the fuel payment, no matter what age they were when they left Britain. And there has been a 13-fold rise in the number of expats claiming the benefit in the last decade.

The latest figures show 33,815 pensioners living in Spain receive the payment, worth £200 for the over-60s and £300 for those over the age of 80. This costs taxpayers £5.8million a year, despite the fact that temperatures in Spain can reach 63F (17C) in December and January.

There are 18,155 recipients in France, many of them in the south where winter temperatures are often a comfortable 57F (14C). Other warm countries with large numbers of recipients include Italy, Portugal and Greece.

‘The bill is going to go up further and that isn’t sustainable,’ said a source. ‘In order to keep the cost under control we are going to be looking at changing the rules and introducing a temperature test.

‘It can’t be right that a payment meant to help people through cold winters is going to those living in the Mediterranean.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith are among those in the Cabinet who have been pressing for a rethink on universal pensioner benefits.

Mr Duncan Smith told the Mail last year: ‘The winter fuel payment is about helping British pensioners with heating costs and it is ludicrous we could have to pay more pensioners living in hot countries.’

Around 12million people in the UK receive the payment each year, but critics say it should be limited to poorer pensioners who need help with fuel bills.

However thanks to Mr Cameron’s pledge, there is no question of winter fuel payments for those living in the UK being cut or means-tested until at least 2016. 

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