Please note that since this article was first written, winter fuel payments for pensioners living abroad are no longer available. That in itself has caused some controversy as you will see from the comments at the end of the original article (which follows here).
Most of us have become familiar with winter fuel payments being made by the UK government to people over the age of 60 who qualify for them to help them towards the additional cost of heating their homes over the colder British winter months. What many of us have only recently realised, however, is that people who qualify but who now live abroad are also entitled to receive these same payments too. It was recently revealed that over £10 million has so far been paid out to people for winter fuel payments but who no longer live in the UK. But it is an issue that has become very controversial since the figures were released.
How do You Qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment in the First Instance?
Firstly, you do not need to apply for a winter fuel payment. If you qualify, they are automatically sent out to you, although if you think you qualify but have not received a payment, you may need to fill out a claim form. To qualify, a person needs to be over 60 and in receipt of a state pension or some other form of social security entitlement (excluding Housing Benefit, Child Benefit or Council Tax Benefit). You need to qualify by a set date earlier in the year to receive payment for that coming winter and payments are usually made from November onwards.
Why Has This Issue Caused Controversy?
Firstly, the winter fuel payments were initially introduced to help alleviate financial hardship for the elderly whose health could be put at risk by them deciding not to keep their heating on for long periods over the colder British winter months because, in doing so, they might not be able to afford it given that their heating bills would become inevitably higher and yet their incomes might not be able to cover the additional costs. It is not a ‘means tested’ payment. Therefore, no matter how rich or poor you are has no bearing on you receiving it, as long as you meet the criteria. Therefore, some people have been ‘up in arms’ over the likes of those who meet the criteria but who have left the UK to escape from the British winter to go and live in sunnier and warmer climates such as Spain, whereby opponents argue that the weather is warm there anyway and so those receiving the payments abroad do not, in fact, need it.
And yes, it is true that many older people have decided to ‘up sticks’ and move from the UK to the likes of Spain for this very reason. In fact, when the figures were announced, it was residents in Spain and France who formed the most significant proportion of those who receive the payments. That said, there are many ex UK residents who now live in other countries within the EU where winters are either equally or even colder than those which we experience in the UK. It’s also important to remember that even in certain areas of France and Spain, winters (though maybe not as harsh as our own) can and do increase the cost of heating bills over the winter months. The argument, however, is often cited at those people who live in areas such as the Costa del Sol or the likes of Mallorca - both popular places to retire to and where severely harsh winters are very few and far between. Secondly, with the UK experiencing a spell of some of the steepest increases in the cost of electricity and gas over recent years, this has outraged opponents even further who’d argue that surely the payments being made to those residing in the likes of southern Spain do not really need the extra money for fuel and it could be put to far better use in helping to assist those back here in the UK who are suffering from financial hardship. And, with the scale of recent gas and electricity price hikes, this has only made the situation here an even more difficult burden to cope with.
Why is This Then ‘Allowed’ to Happen?
Basically, the freedom of movement of people to live, work and receive benefits throughout the EEA (European Economic Area), of which it has to be mentioned that, as UK residents, we have also benefited from in terms of being permitted to work and live in countries which we weren’t previously automatically entitled to do so, has meant that, under EU law, benefits which have been acquired in one member state are equally entitled to receive them if they move to another member state within the EEA, bar a few exceptions to the rule.
Whatever side of the ‘fence’ you stand on with regard to this issue, the fact is that if you do meet the criteria and live in an EEA country, you are probably entitled to receive winter fuel payments. It’s also important to take a wider view that not all pensioners living abroad reside in countries where it’s continually warm and not all of them are well off financially.
To find out more about entitlements to the Winter Fuel Payment scheme, you should visit the Pension Service website.
I forgot one thing.The WFA is actually a right and should not be taken away.It was granted to pensioners by Gordon Brown when a derisory 50p increase in the State Pension caused an outcry.It was regarded as part of the pension.Who stands up for pensioners now in UK?As I thought .....no-one.
Her Ladyship - 26-Feb-17 @ 1:58 PM
I live in SW France and have just had to order my third delivery of wood this winter. I have oil central heating which I can't afford to use.I live in a valley close to a river and temperatures in the Winter are regularly minus during the day.My husband died a few months ago and over half of my income has gone.I worked in UK and paid my taxes all my life,never claiming a penny of benefits.French friends here say it is not possible to live on a UK basic state pension,theirs is a lot higher.Iam also fed up of hearing about all the well off pensioners.What about free child care for grandchildren and dipping into our hard earned savings to bail out family debts and house purchase?The UK is a disgrace.I think they would like all pensioners to shoot themselves.
My husband was in the forces all his working life.For what ? To be treated like a burden on the state.Shame on you UK .
Her Ladyship - 26-Feb-17 @ 1:49 PM
We moved to Spain as I have COPD and was told the warmer climate would extend my life span...This year 2017 I have spent euro upon euro on heating and told by the UK no heating allowance as Spain is a warm Country - they lie - its blooming cold.Oxygen at home, Oxygen Portable from the Spanish health service - NOTHING from the UK whereI and my wife worked for 50 year plus and where we are still paying tax////////////////////// Thankyou UK
mike - 3-Feb-17 @ 5:47 PM
On waking today, see the news, snowing hard, heating on for the last 4 weeks all the time, but no heating allowance why because we chose to live in Spain, warmer they the Government say, they want to come and live here or perhaps pay a visit to the Costa Blanca, please we have paid in all our lives, well since leaving school, please have a thought for all expats in all the countries you stopped the payment to.
law shirl - 18-Jan-17 @ 10:17 AM
Returned to UK from Spain on 13th Oct2016, Got a letter from DWP saying not here for qualifying period in September so no getting WFA, I will however be here during the cold winter months here in Scotland. I did not know about the changes to the rules as was not sent any info from the government. Absolutely ridiculous and not surprising from a Tory government. All you good people of England never seem to learn and continue to vote for them. This debacle affects the poorer retired people of Britain, not the wealthy, come on England, get you voting act together,
terry - 12-Dec-16 @ 10:48 PM
I live in Greece have paid tax in uk for 40+ years and am still a 'UK TAXPAYER ' but not entitled to WFA so why do people say only uk taxpayers are entitled it's frezing cold , wet, i have been flooded in and not been able to leave the house for 5 days yet it's warmer in uk
Madmalc - 6-Dec-16 @ 12:07 PM
My husband died March 2014 the last year the allowance was paid out
I was informed that when working I had not paid enough full stamps and my husband had paid into serps.
I am now 79 ,an am disabled in France.
I was also told I didn't, t have any connection in England although I have a pension and two bank accounts,not much in either.
Lilian Scriven - 7-Apr-16 @ 3:50 PM
I live in southern France and like many of you, I am disgusted by the way the Goverment has fiddled the average winter temperatures for France by including the outre Mer (wonderfully tropical islands like Guadaloupe etc).Leaving these tropical islands out, the average winter temperature for France is colder than that of southern UK. Adding them in of course, means that payment can be terminated for over 5,000 entitled expats in France. Italy, on the other hand, has an average winter temperature one degree WARMER than that of southern UK.I challenged this with the DWP, and the answer was they had allowed for "margins of error".I am not sure that once one has qualified for WFP (those of us being born before 1953 with state pension etc) that is can be taken away.Does anyone know? I also understood that the stopping of WFA was to be challenged in the European Court, but only AFTER payment had been stopped.All information gladly received.
Trish - 2-Feb-16 @ 5:12 PM
i moved to portugal 2 years ago with my husband who is portuguese i lost my dad the year before so we fetched my mum over with usshe is a pensioner and paid her taxes till she received her pensionand she has not received her cold weather payment this year as alot of expats are saying it is not always warm here and it is very cold in the winter months so why has this goverment decided to take away what belongs rightfully to all pensiners i dont see this goverment complaining about paying benifits to migrants family and children who do not live in the uk and for all we know dont even existand those who get benifits that are not even in the uk have never paid a penny into uk system but expat pensioners are being disciminatedagainst so you tell me mr camaron and mr osbourne how you think that your system is fair to the people who have made their country great
shorty - 19-Dec-15 @ 4:16 AM
I have read the letters of other ex pats and have to agree with them. I live in Spain as I cannot sell my house here even though I want to return to England and am actually quite desperate to get back near my family. I lost my husband over here and with him died his pension too and now on top of the struggle I already have am now losing any help towards heating. Heating in Spain is expensive and it is very cold at night and in the mornings. Houses in Spain are not built for warmth but to keep cool and even in the summer when it is very hot we still have to pay electricity for air conditioning and electricity over here is very expensive. I think the government is very unfair to discriminate when I have paid all my taxes, national insurance etc etc and so did my parents and their parents. Do I need to go on? Please have another look at this Osborne and Cameron and get your priorities right.
jenni - 1-Dec-15 @ 3:18 PM
I have read some of the comments about living aboard and it is so true houses are not built to hold the heat and even tough it may be warmer through the day it still gets cold inside the house and electricity is expensive here plus when it is so hot we have to have fans going night and day trying to keep cool.I feel at least I contributed towards what I receive!!.
les - 1-Dec-15 @ 12:46 PM
I have read & taken in all the readers comments. I live in the Costa Blanca south, it is 1015am, the wind is gale force it is sunny but there is no one on the streets, anyone who ventures out are covered it has been windy like this for two days, the nights are 5 to 7 degrees C compared to 9 to11 degrees C in South Wales were I used to live. I am going to contact the people in Brussels & request an appeal against the ruling by the UK govt, I suggest any of you who have had their WLA cancelled.
CJ - 26-Nov-15 @ 9:21 AM
There is still a lot of misinformation regarding winter fuel allowance
for expats living in France. I spoke to someone yesterday who stated
he was waiting for a letter from the pensions dept confirming that his
winter fuel payment has stopped. He is convinced that the payment
will arrive soon! What is the exact positionDoes anybody know ?s
Gooner - 25-Nov-15 @ 5:12 PM
As many people die in Spain from heat exhaustion because they either don't have air con or cannot afford to run it, or the fans needed to keep cool,the electricity is as dear as the UK. It regularly reaches 40 to 50 degrees in the summer months. In the area where I stay it can be bitterly cold in the winterwe have had snow and severe frost and as has been commented before spanish houses are not built to hold the heat. Many pensioners came to live the "good life " in Spain,not realising the extremes of weather experienced here, the recent terrible flooding in the Almeria and Benidorm area is one example. Because of the recession,many pensioners who would like to return cannot because the housing market has died and there are no buyers.
Apart from all that most of them worked all their life and paid their dues and should be entitled to this once a year payment. The Uk prides itself on its humanitarian values and aids all those it can,why are we treating our pensioners this way? I urge everyone to lobby their MPs to get this changed.
P.S. I live in the UK most of the year and am therefore entitled to this payment but I am very concerned for my elderly friends here,who if this small bit of help is removed next year may not survive.
P.P.S. Spanish oaps receive twice our monthly pension in most cases.We are not exactly generous with ours.
fayze - 18-Sep-15 @ 6:45 PM
Myself and my husband moved to Costa Blanca,Spain several years ago,due to failing health.Yes it is hot in the Summer months, and often Air Conditioning is required which also costs money to run,but in Winter it is often below 0 degrees at night and early in the morning and will not rise to more than 9/10 degrees all day.Our electicity bills here are far more than what our family pay in England.We paid our dues in England during our working livesand we feel we are entitled to this payment,they pay people in England a Living Wage,State Pension is not a living wage. Cyndy.
cyndy - 12-Aug-15 @ 8:34 AM
The wider point is that there is little sympathy in the UK for those living in these countries when public services in the UK are under such a strain.The WFA was never intended to partly fund those living in Spain, Portugal, etc. and it was forced on the UK government by a EU ruling.People taxpayers living in the UK, many in worse financial straits, will argue that those who are fighting the removal in 2015 of the WFA have the obvious answer to hand.That of returning to the UK where there will be none of these problems of receiving the WFA.By rejecting this obvious option by choosing a presumably more agreeable lifestyle in the southern countries, even at this cost to the UK taxpayer, it seems from the UK that those living in these other countries want to have their cake and to eat it.Something the UK government clearly has little time for.
Johnny G - 17-Jul-15 @ 6:42 PM
The problem for those arguing that parts of these countries are cold in the winter is that the UK government must judge things by the average temperature.This is because people living in colder areas of Spain or Portugal, for example, could later move to the warmer part of the country.This would mean in turn the UK government having to recalculate on a weekly basis, each time this occurred, whether the claimant lived in one of the "colder" areas of these countries at any particular time, a bureaucratic nightmare.Then there is the issue of the potential for fraud (eg people in the warmer regions of these countries "forgetting" to say that they are no longer living in the colder bits), and people staying only temporarily in a colder area.The complications mean that it's not practical or cost-effective to try to monitor the movements from the UK of people who move around these "warmer" countries to see if they still qualify for the WFA at any given point in time.Instead, in the interests of simplicity and cost to the UK taxpayer, these blanket prohibitions do the job.
I was born in the UK and worked there for about 5 years.I then moved to Australia as I married an Australian.We were divorced after 27 years and I was happy to stay and work in Australia until my daughter decided to move to England and then Scotland.I am 71 years old and don't think I am eligible for the UK pension and do not receive the Australian pension. I do qualify for the Commonwealth Health Care Card for self funded retirees ( income less than $50,000 p.a)
If I move to the UK to be near near my daughter would I receive the winter fuel allowance?I will be living on my own and will apply for a council tax reduction.
Janie - 27-Jun-15 @ 7:56 AM
After reading a letter from UK government saying that expats will not be receiving the yearly winter fuel payments, and an explanation of how they have calculated the temperatures do they think people are totally stupid!
The temperature in the region I reside reach much lower than UK! The temperature that has been used is against the average temperature of the milder part of the UK, 5.8 this is in the South, whether you live in the north or the south of the UK whether it be warmer or colder you will get your winter allowance, if you live in the EEC and you are a UK pensioner you will be penalised or should I say discriminated against for doing so, what chance does the UK govenment have at eliminating discrimination in the UK, NONE! That's because they are doing it themselves, to you the pensioners, who have worked their 44 years and paid in!Braved the war! and made it a country to be proud of.
Remember it's not your country doing this to you it's the people running it, so when they want your vote flush it down the toilet, because that's what they are doing to you!
I wonder how many expats living in the UK who are of pensionable age are told their not getting the winter allowance!!!
All these comments I've heard about UK residence agreeing if you live abroad you should not receive the winter payment, wherever you live you have to pay your winter bills, and if you have paid your full stamp why should it be any different. We should be supporting each other not condemning something that is wrong.
By the way I'm not a pensioner and will proberbly never become one as my pensionable age has moved so far into the future! but then that's to pay for someone else.
Gloria - 1-Mar-15 @ 3:31 PM
@stoneybroke. Here is the eligibility criteria for claiming the winter fuel allowance while abroad. It may be that others fit the criteria.
RetirementExpert - 29-Jan-15 @ 10:47 AM
I now live in Bulgaria...mainly due to the fact I can no longer afford the UK, having said that we get winters at -30c all the people here get fuel and Christmas box every year, most of them have not told the DWP but hey guess what........I was honest and get none of it...I have written to them twice but as yet the 10 days answer I am waiting for has yet to come, but I think that the cheats get it all and the honest ones pay for it. Just in case anyone thinks I am joking I have seen the paperwork for the ones that are claiming it and the DWP write to them here in Bulgaria...
stoneybroke - 27-Jan-15 @ 10:12 AM
@all those living in warmer climates, yes it gets cold in Spain and Portugal but the winter fuel payment was designed for those living through extremes of temperatures that used to be frequent in the UK (we're talking minus tempertures not 2 to 5 degrees).
Grumpy - 9-Jan-15 @ 2:16 PM
We live in central Portugal and every winter we see evening temperatures between minus5 and 2 degrees.The houses here are not designed to retain heat and the cost of central heating is astronomical.The cost of electricity is also on par with the UK so I cannot see why the government feels we do not justify the WFA.What criteria have they used to decide which countries should still receive it.There is no sense in treating the whole of Portugal the same as it is far colder in the north than in the south.Likewise with Spain and France.Is there a website we can join to post our objections?
Lesley - 8-Jan-15 @ 9:18 AM
I have now been living in Malta with my partner for nearly 18 months. I have COPD and need to be warm. From 26th December 2013 - 27th February 2014 we paid €2683.11 for Electricity & Water, of which was just € 28. This equates to approx. £2163.00 which again works out to £33.79 per. day and you are saying we don't need the WFP I think we do. Because of the illness I need a certain temperature to help with my breathing.The houses here are built for the hottest summers to keep people cool but in the winter they are so cold and damp. The total bills for that year were over €4000.00 we have even had the meter checked to make sure it is correct costing us another €70. My partner is a young 77 and I am his Toy Girl at 65 ,we just have our bit of savings and our pensions. I just thought I would put my 2 pennuth in because we are not very happy.
V Bum - 25-Dec-14 @ 1:15 PM
I live in the UK for 20 years coming from the Netherlands, as we no longer live there we do not get the same allowances as the pensioners in the Netherlands. I only think that's fair, why should I make use of the system over there, I live in Britain and paid my taxes etc. here for the last 20 years and still do because my husband and I are still working.
Micky - 12-Dec-14 @ 6:42 PM
@Kipper. It's really designed for keeping pensioners in this country warm though isn't it?
yvonne nomnom - 12-Nov-14 @ 10:06 AM
I moved to Spain in November 2012 with my wife, and we were not prepared for the winters in the Costa Blanca. Yes they are warmer than the UK but believe you me, you need jumpers, coats and heating in the houses. Houses in Spain are not built to retain the heat so consequently in the winter when the north winds blow, it is flipping cold in the house, and contrary to what people think electricity is not cheap in Spain, so we need the winter fuel payment as much as the UK. I worked for 50 odd years have not claimed once off the government for unemployment etc., have been fortunate to live a reasonable healthy life so haven't had to use the NHS very much, the least the government can do is continue to pay us the WFP. There are elderly people out here that are panicking because they don't know how they are going to afford to pay their heating bills from 2015, if the WFP stops.
Kipper - 10-Nov-14 @ 3:57 PM
Please let me know if I qualify for WFP3
Mick - 19-Feb-14 @ 5:55 PM
hi I received last year the fuel allowance from the UK for the first time I am 73 and have lived here for many years, this year I have received nothing and when I telephoned I was informed that as I was widowed and claiming a widows pension from my husbands contributions I was not eligible.Come on this cant be for real, would I not receive this if I lived in the UK surely this is discrimination