This piece first appeared in The Weekly Telegraph on 23 June 2003
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Frozen pensioner loses appeal

blow for 490,000 ex-pat pensioners


Three appeal court judges dashed the hopes of nearly half a million ex-patriate pensioners on Tuesday when they ruled that the Government was entitled to freeze their retirement pensions. The case was brought by Annette Carson, a 62 year old British citizen living in South Africa. She got her pension when she reached 60 in September 2000 and when it was not increased in April 2001 she claimed that the UK Government had breached two provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 - depriving her of her property and doing so in a way that discriminated against her compared with people who lived in the UK and some other countries.

But the three Court of Appeal judges unanimously agreed with a High Court ruling made almost exactly a year ago that the matter was a political one and fell outside the scope of the Human Rights Act. As a result her pension will remain at £103.62 a week. If it had been uprated in line with pensions in the UK it would now be £116.04, costing her more than £645 this year alone. But she is more worried for the effect on other fellow South African ex-pats. Speaking from her home in Ladysmith, Ms Carson told The Weekly Telegraph

"My overriding reaction is disappointment. When you consider the people surviving on a pittance which comes nowhere near providing them the support they need in their old age in South Africa where there is no social security and medical treatment and medicines are extremely expensive. Losing the case has serious implications for them."

UK retirement pensions pad in South Africa are frozen at the rate they are first paid and people who reached 65 in the 1970s are still living on what was then a full pension of a few pounds a week despite paying full National Insurance contributions throughout their working life.

The judges refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords and ordered Ms Carson to pay the costs of the Department for Work and Pensions. She now faces a legal bill well into six figures though she told The Weekly Telegraph "The Alliance of British Pensioners has done a sterling job of raising funds and it has been setting aside money for costs and we believe that is as close to what we estimate as possible."

Although UK retirement pensions are frozen in South Africa and most other countries in the world, in 40 countries they are increased each April in line with inflation for the 410,000 living in them. Even the judges accepted that the system was odd. Lord Justice Laws said "There is no doubt that the overall position as it stands today is a haphazard consequence of events." The result of these events is that pensions are uprated in the USA but not in neighbouring Canada. People in Barbados get their pensions increased but not those in Trinidad and Tobago. Pensions are uprated in the Philippines but not in Indonesia. And they go up each year for ex-patriates in France and Spain but not in tiny Andorra between the two countries. The patchwork has been created by a series of treaties negotiated between the 1950s and the 1980s and the anomalies will get worse next year when ten more countries join the EU – including seven where pensions are currently frozen. More than 2500 UK pensioners living in them will then get their pensions uprated from 1 May 2004. Those living in Bulgaria and Romania will be added when those countries join the EU in 2007 bringing the number of ‘unfrozen’ countries to 49.

In November 2000 Jeff Rooker, then the Pensions Minster, admitted the present situation was impossible to justify. "I am not prepared to defend the logic of the present situation. It is illogical." But the present Government, like all previous governments, has baulked at the cost of putting right the anomaly which would cost around £300 million a year to pay full pensions to the 490,000 pensioners living in frozen countries – principally in Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

Although the Court refused leave to appeal, Ms Carson may still seek permission from the House of Lords to take the case further. But she says that depends on money.

"We haven’t ruled out the possibility of an appeal if a benefactor appears above the horizon, and we have a few more days to make our request. I am prepared to fight on as long as there is money to fight with. But we cannot take the matter further without more funds. We are up against the forces of the Blair government which has made it very clear that they don’t like the Human Rights Act being used to overturn government decisions. I am very disappointed with the British judicial system."

The 40 countries where the UK state pension is uprated – with nine more due to join them.

European Union (all)
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden

European Economic Area (all)
Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein

Commonwealth (5 out of 54)
Barbados, Cyprus, Jamaica, Malta, Mauritius

British Overseas Territories (2 out of 13)
Bermuda, Gibraltar
(In the Falkland Islands the local legislative Council tops up frozen UK pensions to the level that would have been paid in the UK.)

Crown Dependencies (all 5)
Alderney, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Sark

Former Yugoslavia (all 6)
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia), Kosovo

Others (5 out of around 100)
Israel, Philippines, Switzerland, Turkey, United States of America

From 1 May 2004 when they join the EU (7)
Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia.

From 2007 - on present plans to enlarge the EU (2)
Bulgaria, Romania


23 June 2003

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