This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 31 December  1999
The text here may not be identical to the published text

Fuel rules to benefit men

European court ruling

Around a million men aged 60-64 will get a Christmas box of up to 140 thanks to the European Court of Justice. It ruled today that the government's winter fuel payment breached European sex discrimination rules. The payment - which is 100 this year - goes to people who claim the state retirement pension. That is paid at different ages to men and women and the Government thought that the winter fuel payment would be covered by an exemption which allows the different pension ages for men and women. But today the European Court of Justice said it was not.

The Government has agreed to abide by the ruling and extend the payments to everyone who was 60 on the qualifying dates back to when the scheme started in 1997. The dates are September 20 1999, November 9 1998 and January 5 1998. Anyone aged 60 or more on those dates should now qualify unless they live in a hospital or nursing home.

The payment was 20 in the first two years, so the maximum payment will be 140. It is not just men aged 60 to 64 who will benefit. Thousands of others who have reached pension age but deferred claiming their retirement pension did not qualify for the payment. They will now do so. And so will many of women who were over 60 but did not get a pension because they had too few National Insurance stamps. However, only one payment is made per pensioner household, so a couple will normally get 100 between them. Men aged 60 who claim income support will not benefit as they have already had the payment under different rules. Altogether the Government estimates around a million and half people in a million households will benefit at a cost to the state of up to 125 million. As there are no records of them at the Benefits Agency, they will have to claim. The form will be issued in the New Year.

31 December 1999

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