UPDATED 18 MAY 2015
UK expats living in some other European countries can claim the Winter Fuel Payment this winter. To qualify this winter 2015/16 they must have been born on 5 January 1953 or earlier and have 'a genuine and sufficient link to the UK'. They must also live in one of 25 countries listed below. From Winter 2015 it is no longer paid in seven warmer EU countries.
Until 2012 people who lived outside the UK could not claim the Winter Fuel Payment. If they had already qualified and claimed it in the UK they could keep it if they moved, but they could not claim it for the first time from outside the UK.
The change was brought about by a judgement of the European Court of Justice in a case about disability benefits. The court ruled that it was wrong to prevent people from claiming the benefit just because they did not live in the UK at the time of the claim. As long as they had what is called 'a genuine and sufficient link to the social security system of the UK' they can claim from another European country. The DWP interprets that as meaning that the person worked and paid National Insurance in the UK for a long period of time, certainly enough time to qualify for a state pension. The new rule began on 16 September 2013.
The Winter Fuel Payment is £200 per household where a qualifying person lives. So a couple will normally get £100 each. If someone is over 80 (born 27 September 1935 or earlier) the payment is £300.
Payments cannot be claimed for earlier winters. A loophole which allowed some payments from the late 1990s to be claimed was closed from 1 April 2014.
Claims for this winter 2015/16 can be made by people living in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, or Switzerland.
The payment is not made to people living in the Channel Islands nor the chilly Isle of Man because they are outside the EU.
Claims for people living in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal, and Spain are no longer allowed, even if you got one there in the past. They were paid up to winter 2014/15.
The seven countries were chosen because the average temperature of the whole country in the months November to March were warmer than the average temperature in the warmest region of the UK - South West England where it is 5.6C. However, the Department for Work and Pensions calculated the average temperature for France including its four tropical overseas territories - Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, French Guiana on the equatorial coast of South America and Réunion which is south of the Equator in the Indian Ocean tropics. Mean winter temperatures in these places range from 20.5C to 25.8C. If they had been excluded the average temperature in France would have been 4.9C, which is below the cut off point for the payment. But including the four territories raises the average to 7.0C thus enabling the Government to exclude tens of thousands of expats living anywhere in mainland France. In fact only six regions in mainland France have a mean winter temperature higher than that in SW England. The DWP claims it had no choice about including the overseas territories. It had to use the definition of France which the French government uses which includes them.
A Met Office report on temperatures in 34 European countries by region contains the data and will enable the new law to be applied if other countries such as Turkey join the EU. No other country in the 34 would be excluded.
Find out more about winter fuel payment and how to claim. People living abroad will normally have to make a claim. And so do men in the UK aged under 65 in the first year they qualify. If you want to get advice call +44 191 218 7777 if you live abroad. If you live in the UK call 03459 15 15 15.
If you do not qualify this year find your qualifying date in future here - assuming the rules do not change which they might.
18 May 2015