UPDATED 19 OCTOBER 2014
UK expats living in other European countries can now claim the Winter Fuel Payment. To qualify this winter 2014/15 they must have been born on 5 July 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 the payment are a lot warmer than the UK. And from Winter 2015 it 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. 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 21 September 1934 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 2014 can be made from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, 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. Mean winter temperatures in these places range from 20.5C to 25.8C. It can also be claimed in Spain’s Canary Islands, Ibiza and Majorca with temperatures up to 15C as well as the Portuguese Azores and Madeira islands which are 12C-13C in winter.
Winter 2014 is the last winter when payments will be made to people living in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar,
Greece, Malta, Portugal, and Spain. A new rule prevents payments to people living in those countries from winter 2015/16.
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 has confirmed that the average temperature for France was calculated including those tropical overseas territories. Excluding them 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 with temperatures in the 20s raises the average to 7.0C thus enabling the Government to exclude tens of thousands of expats living anywhere in France. In fact only six regions in mainland France have a mean winter temperature higher than that in SW England. The DWP claims that it did not choose to include the overseas territories - it had no choice as it had to use the definition of France which the French government uses which includes them.
Click here for the Met Office report on temperatures in 34 European countries by region which 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.
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 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.