UPDATED 28 JUNE 2013
UK expats living in other European countries can now claim the Winter Fuel Payment. To qualify this winter 2013/14 they must have been born on 5 January 1952 or earlier and have 'a genuine and sufficient link to the UK'. They must also live in an EU country, the three EEA countries or Switzerland - they are listed below. Some countries where expats can now claim are a lot warmer than the UK. And from Winter 2015 the Government intends that they will no longer paid in seven warmer 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. Guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions sets out the judgement and its effect on Winter Fuel Payment http://goo.gl/jjIMG. The rules have now been set down in the law which comes into effect 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 22/9/1933 or earlier) the payment is £300. People born before 20/9/1939 may also qualify for one of more payments from earlier years if they were living in a country which qualified in 1999/2000, 1998/99 or 1997/98 when the EU was much smaller. Payments were also smaller then - £20 in 1997/98 and 1998/99 and £100 in 1999/2000. Those payments must be claimed by 31 March 2014 when the law will change to stop them. Payments for years from 2000/01 to 2012/13 cannot be claimed now.
Claims can be made from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia (from 1 July), Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia,, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
France includes its overseas territories Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, French Guiana on the equatorial coast of South America and even Réunion which is south of the Equator in the Indian Ocean tropics. Winter temperatures in these countries are typically 25-30C. It can also be claimed in Spain’s Canary Islands, Ibiza and Majorca as well as the Portuguese Azores and Madeira islands.
However, the Government intends to stop payments to people in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar,
Greece, Malta, Portugal, and Spain. It says the average winter temperature there is warmer than the average winter temperature in the UK's warmest region, south west England. No payment will be made to people living in those countries from winter 2015/16.
It is possible that the new rule - announced on 26 June 2013 - will be challenged in the European Court. It is not completely clear why our next door neighbour France is on the excluded list but Italy - on the face of it a warmer country - is not. I am told there are cold winters in parts of Spain too. It is likely that the average temperature in France, Spain and Portugal are boosted by their warmer territories. Mainland winter temperatures in France are not a lot above freezing.
The payments are not made to people living in the Channel Islands nor the chilly Isle of Man because they are outside the EU.
Find out more about winter fuel payment and download the forms here http://goo.gl/ZVUFT. Remember men in the UK aged under 65 normally have to claim it too 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 08459 15 15 15 or 0191 218 7610.
If you do not qualify this year find your qualifying date in future here - assuming the rules do not change which they might http://goo.gl/yVgLn