Latest on WFP triggered by new onslaught from DWP

Oh dear, oh dear, Iain Duncan Smith has once more got his knickers in a twist about Winter Fuel Payments to British expats. Feeding stories out to the press (Daily Mail Online 22/09) about the cost of £16m paid to British pensioners living in ‘hot’ countries, shows how rattled he still is by a Judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

It is true claimants increased after that Judgment, largely because the DWP felt obliged to write to those who became eligible as a result of the Court’s Judgment. But the latest figures, just released by his Department show that the total amount actually spent on Winter Fuel Payments went down in the year 2013/2014 from 2012/2013.

Again it is true there was an increase amongst expat claimants in that same period - 0.86% for Spain, 3.18% for France, but 67.73% for Ireland (there are now more claimants in Ireland than there are in France). But don’t worry Mr Duncan Smith if your ‘temperature test policy’ ever becomes law, you will be able to stop payments to British expats, most being entitled to the payment even before the Court ruling against you - and of course the fiddled figures for France will turn it into a ‘cold country’ when the average winter temperature is actually lower that the south-west of England.

There is a much said about benefit cheats - Iain Duncan Smith himself will become a benefit cheat if he succeeds in removing the WFP from British expats living in France, because he is fiddling the average winter temperature figures for France by including average winter temperatures from places like Guadeloupe a very warm tropical island. The French Meteorological Office, Météo France does not do that, why should the DWP?

It seems to me that the Labour Party has got this one about right by targeting the richest five per cent of pensioners, rather than making a wide swathe of pensioners suffer, just because they happen to live outside the UK.

Bit of a trudge to get in for non-subscribers but got there. Well done Roger. Hope somebody who counts and is willing to take it on sees it. Right now I suspect they are all suffering ukip fever though.

In the ongoing battle to prevent the DWP from stopping Winter Fuel Payments to all expats in France (and Spain and Portugal), The Times has given us a balanced piece today.

It is part of the rationale that eventually pensions should be frozen if not discontinued and people who leave the UK be forced to rely on private pensions. The absurdity there is that it would then exclude people who are not able to afford private, therefore a considerable number of people with state pensions would stay put. What is lost on the roundabout is gained on the swings, as they say. IDS is effectively advocating the totally private social state. It is unachievable in the lifetime of all but just about school leavers who would start paying in now for all of their benefits, health cover, pension and anything else. We already see that in my family. My father-in-law was a Swiss civil servant so has a state pension and a private one, but that is reserved for public servants. Although everybody pays social security and health contributions those are for the running of the system and not for pay outs, those are usually private. My OH is pushing 50 and with increasing retirement ages would probably be expected to work for 20 years now. Having made a few years of payment only, the best she would ever achieve is about 60% of a realistic pension to live on. What people do not see when they gaze admiringly at that country is how much poverty there is hidden behind the façade, especially among the elderly. Present policies could so easily go down that road. Winter fuel is the starting point with potentially frozen pensions at some time in the future. All good reason to fight it, even if not for ourselves but future generations.

Some interesting FACTS about Winter Fuel Payments:

Total expenditure from the whole UK budget spent on WFP actually fell by 1% in the year 2013/2014 when compared to the year 2012/2013.

The number of expats as a proportion of all claimants is still only 1.1% of the total.

The big spike in claimant numbers from EEA countries was in the year 2012/2013, the year which followed the Judgment from the Court of Justice of the European Union, when the increase was 63% over the previous year. That happened primarily because the DWP wrote to those eligible to invite them to claim!

In 2013/2014 the increase in all EEA claimants has only been a further 14%, with an increase of 3.18% for France, and 0.86% for Spain, but a massive 67.73% for the Republic of Ireland!

The number of claimants from the Republic of Ireland now exceeds the number of claimants from France - 31,810 as compared to 29,535.

The DWP complain that EEA claimants have gone from 74 thousand to 139 thousand, and yet 18% of that increase came from the Republic of Ireland - so why does the 'bashing' have to be aimed at those living in the so-called hot countries?

Makes one wonder why the DWP decided now was the time to start ‘expat bashing’ yet again!!

The ECJ judgements are non-enforceable unfortunately. So that means the DWP, or IDS himself, can simply shrug shoulders and go forward. The slight problem with them doing that is that they open the door to a High Court action in the UK which could be raised on the back of the ECJ decision if appellant grounds that have not been raised previously are found. As far as I can find, no individual cases on the basis of legal bias based on the assessment of France as a hot country have gone down that route. Lawyers are not dozy, so they may be holding fire on that and testing the political circumstances, the forthcoming general election that is to say, before acting. The DWP is implying this is definitively the last payment this year but, as one says, the jury is still out and we may yet be surprised. I hope so, the £200 pays a good part of our heating bill each winter.

I am reliably informed that the CJEU cannot act further until legislation is produced, but you can rest assured the detailed Briefing Note we produced has gone to the right 'sources'. In any event it will need a case to be referred to the CJEU, since it is in effect our 'Supreme Court'. Don't know how Labour's policy could be applied to French pensioners, but I'm sure they will find a way. However, I suspect that those who could be affected haven't claimed anyway. We have two friends who have never claimed, I suspect because they have two public service pensions and one private pension on top of their State pensions. No, some of the main 'victims' will be the likes of ex MPs!!

Labour have already signalled the removal of the WFP from the top 5% of pensioners based on income, and I think the LibDems will go down a similar track. That to me is fairer than removing it from everyone because they have managed to turn a cold country into a hot country! I am pretty certain that when the necessary legislative framework is revealed, there will be complaints going back to the Court of Justice of the European Union. I believe that one of the justifications for the so-called 'temperature test', the DOMs of France, is a crucial element which shows that the Government is acting in a discriminatory way, and I don't think the CJEU will take too kindly to their Judgement being flouted in this way. We shall see ....

No, not a silly point, however, there is a Winter Fuel Payment, which is up to £300 per annum for claimants, and there is a separate Cold Weather Payment, which is £25 a week when the average temperature has been‚ or is expected to be‚ 0°C or below for 7 days in a row (between 1 November and 31 March). Successive Governments have been at pains to avoid the term Allowance, since that implies it is paid automatically, whereas, it has to be claimed, and it is that aspect which I find difficult, since it then does not become 'universal'.

Just a silly little point. WFP = World Food Programme, it should be WFA for Winter Fuel Allowance!

What does one expect with his CV, much of which is either invention or exaggeration like him claiming that he studied at the Università degli Perugia. It was then found to be false after an investigation by the BBC. His office then admitted that he went to the Università per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) which is in Perugia for one year but did not get any kind of qualification or even finish the exams. That he allows the kind of thing his DWP is doing with WFP is in character with his personal history. I suspect he knows 'where the bodies are buried' as one says, which is why he will definitely remain in that post until the end of this parliament and should Tories be returned, extend his tenure. What else will he have in store for us? Perhaps pension reductions because too many expats are obese and should therefore eat less which reducing their pension will help...