This piece first appeared in The Weekly Telegraph on 27 February 2002
The text here may not be identical to the published text
A British woman living in South Africa could cost the UK government £330 million a year if she succeeds in her legal action to get her state retirement pension unfrozen. Annette Carson moved to South Africa in 1989 to work in advertising. Now 61 she still earns her living as a writer. But she was horrified to find that after a lifetime contributing to a UK state pension that she would be discriminated against for living in her chosen country.
"I continued with my state pension contributions because wherever you are in the world you should always do that. The Department of Social Security happily took my money. But I was horrified to learn, not from the UK government but from the Telegraph as a matter of fact, that when I claimed my pension it would be frozen. I got in September 2000 and in April 2001 it was not increased and that is the basis of my case."
Campaigners have been trying for decades to get the Government to end the discrimination which creates two classes of British pensioner living abroad. The lucky half are the 441,800 people who live in 40 countries where their UK retirement pensions are increased each year in line with inflation. In April they will see a rise of 4.1% in their basic pension. The unlucky half are the 490,200 who live in the rest of the world. Their pensions are frozen at the date when they first claimed them leaving some older people with just a few pounds a week despite a lifetime working and contributing to the UK National Insurance scheme. Almost all these frozen pensioners live in the Commonwealth – principally in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
Despite consistent pressure from successive Australian and Canadian Ministers, all British Governments – Conservative and Labour – have resisted change on grounds of cost – currently put at £330 million a year to unfreeze pensions around the world. The present Labour Government, despite the fact that that several serving Ministers supported change when in opposition, says it would rather concentrate resources on poorer pensioners in the UK.
In the face of this intransigence, the High Court case in April is of tremendous importance to the campaigners. It is being brought under the 1998 Human Rights Act, which incorporates into UK law the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 1 of the first protocol to the convention says everyone is "entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions" which "No one shall be deprived of". Lawyers argue that the state retirement pension is a possession which has been paid for and should not be arbitrarily taken away from people. Moreover, the way in which it is taken away could also contravene article 14 which says "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground". Clearly there is discrimination between those who live in the 40 states where pensions are uprated and the rest of the world where they are not.
The solicitor handling the case, Graham Chrystie of City law firm Vizards Wyeth, says that the case is about more than Annette Carson.
"If Annette wins we will ask the court to declare the regulations which freeze pensions paid abroad ultra vires and of no effect. Her case is the lead case but we represent all the Canadian and South African pensioners. The furthest we can go back is 2 October 2000 when the Human Rights Act came into force. But the quantum [amount] would have to be settled country by country. Annette gets no benefit to make up her loss from the South African Government but others might and they could not get double provision out of the case."
Charles Poole, president of the South African Alliance of British Pensioners says a lot is riding on the case "There’s a lot of people living on the breadline. One couple I know, in their late 80s, are still getting about £8 a week which they first claimed nearly 30 years ago. If they got the full amount, around £100, they could afford the medical care they need."
But the campaign itself also needs money. The Telegraph has learned that there are three barristers on the case – Richard Drabble QC and two more from Matrix Chambers, where Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth, also works. Such a legal team does not come cheap. Although they are all reputed to have worked on the case for very low fees, Graham Chrystie confirmed to the Telegraph that the costs would be in six figures. Charles Poole says the money has been largely raised for poorer pensioners living overseas and they are running out. The Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners has recently contributed £35,000 to the fighting fund. Chairman Bob McMullan said "We took a deep breath, dug into our reserves and gave them the money. The South African case can blow a huge crater in the British Government’s disgraceful practice of short-changing our members. We appeal to all British expatriates – and other people of goodwill – to help us rebuild and increase our fighting fund. All frozen pensioners will benefit."
Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners
South African Alliance of British Pensioners
UK retirement pensions are uprated in 40 countries
Alderney, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia), Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jersey, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Sark, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and United States of America.
In the Falkland Islands the local government tops up frozen UK pensions to the level that would have been paid in the UK.
|UK FROZEN PENSIONERS|
|Rest of Commonwealth||27,420|
|Rest of World||13,700|
Source: DWP July 2001
27 February 2002