This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 14 September 2002
The text here may not be identical to the published text

Tropical heat guaranteed, courtesy of UK taxpayers

The EU has ruled that over-60s living abroad can get help with heating bills

They will be cracking open an extra bottle of chilled Cava in the British community in Spain this winter as the £200 taxfree Winter Fuel Payment is extended to an estimated 30,000 people who live in 19 countries outside the UK. The annual £200 payment is intended to help people over 60 with the extra costs of keeping warm in winter. But The Daily Telegraph has learned that eligibility will extend not only to people enjoying the winter warmth of Spain, France, Italy and Greece but also to some people living on three tropical islands, including Réunion in the southern hemisphere where they will be enjoying summer temperatures exceeding 30C as the £200 cheques arrive.

The change in the rules was quietly announced just before Parliament took its summer break and followed lengthy discussions with the European Commission about the rights of EU citizens to receive the Winter Fuel Payment throughout Europe. The Government wanted to confine it to people living in the UK. But Brussels insisted that although an individual has to be living in the UK to qualify initially, once they have done so they can go and live in any one of 19 other countries and receive the payment every year even if they never return to Britain. People already living in these countries who have previously received a Winter Fuel Payment in the UK can now get payments for each year between then and now and receive it in future. People over 60 who move to one of these countries in the future can continue to get the payment. No-one who permanently left the UK before 5 January 1998 or who is not a citizen of the UK or one of the 19 other countries can get the payment paid abroad.

The 19 countries are the 14 other members of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are in the European Economic Area, together with Gibraltar and Switzerland. The most distant places where the payment can be made are the Overseas Departments of France which, despite their exotic locations, count as part of the EU. They are Martinique and Guadeloupe – 4200 miles away in the Caribbean where winter temperatures seldom fall below 25C; Réunion, 6000 miles distant in the southern tropics of the Indian Ocean; and French Guiana, on the coast of South America, 4500 miles away, whose position just above the equator give it year round temperatures of 27C. Spanish territories include the Canary Islands off the African coast where winters are a warm 18C, as well as Ibiza and Majorca – where January temperatures seldom fall below 10C.

Despite the extension to warmer parts of the world, some people living within the British Isles will still be excluded. The Winter Fuel Payment will not be made to anyone shivering in the 5C winter temperatures of the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.

Extending the Winter Fuel Payment to people living in these 19 countries will cost up to £5 million a year – but only if people claim. Experience in the UK indicates that many will not. When the scheme was extended in 2000 to everyone aged 60 or more – again on the instructions of Europe – 1.9 million new claims were expected but barely a million received. The missing people are mainly men aged 60-64 who do not get a state retirement pension or other benefits and are not known to the DWP. They must claim in order to get the payment and many who are still at work and do not think of themselves as ‘old’ fail to do so.

This winter 11.2 million people in the UK will be eligible for the tax-free payment. To qualify a person must have been born on or before 22 September 1942 and normally live in the UK during the week of 16-22 September. Those living alone will get £200 while those sharing with another person over 60 will get £100 each. Some people are excluded – people who have been in hospital for more than a year, who live in a nursing or residential care home and do not pay the full costs themselves, or are in prison serving a sentence.

Most people do not have to claim. Anyone in the UK who gets a state retirement pension, a disability benefit, or who got the Winter Fuel Payment last year should get paid automatically. But other people have to claim – especially men aged 60 to 64 and many of those living abroad. Claims will be accepted up to 31 March 2003 but if the claim is made by Friday September 20 then the payment will arrive before Christmas.

The payment can still be claimed for some previous years. People living in the UK can still claim for 1997/98, 1998/99 and 1999/2000. People living in the EU or EEA who have received a payment in the UK can claim for any years between then and now. But people who live in Switzerland cannot claim for earlier years.

More information and a claim form is available from the DWP website the DWP pension service website

People in the UK can phone the winter fuel helpline 08459 151515 and from abroad can ring 0044 29 2042 8635.

Winter Fuel Payment countries outside the UK

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France (including French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion), Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal (including the Azores and the Madeira islands), Spain (including Balearic and Canary Islands and Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast), Sweden, Switzerland.

Qualifying for Winter Fuel Payment


Born on or before

Living in the UK -
qualifying week

Full* amount

Half** amount


11 January 1938

5-11 January 1998




15 November 1938

9-15 November 1998




26 September 1939

20-26 September 1999




24 September 1940

18-24 September 2000




23 September 1941

17-23 September 2001




22 September 1942

16-22 September 2002



* Full amount is paid to people living alone or with other people under 60.

** Half amount is paid to individuals who share a home with someone else aged 60 or more.

***Backdated claims cannot be made for 2000/01 or 2001/02 by people living in the UK.

Backdated payments and claims can be made to people living in the 19 WFP countries for any year

except 1997/98 if they were over 60 and living in the UK in the qualifying week.

14 September 2002

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