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Winter fuel payment

The Times, Nov 8

Expats in ‘tropical’ France denied winter fuel payment.

This article first appeared in the Times.

When Roger Boaden paid £400 to a farmer last week for logs to feed the hungry wood burner in his French home, he wondered how the department for work and pensions (DWP) could possibly claim that where he lived was too hot to justify a winter fuel payment.

He found out that it was quite simple: the officials had lumped in a few tropical islands when they decided on the definition of France.

The temperature in winter regularly falls to -10C in the Limousin region of France, to which Mr Boaden and his wife, Maria, retired 12 years ago on a modest pension after he spent 30 years working for the Conservative party.

The Boadens are among almost 60,000 British pensioners living in France who are to be stripped of the annual winter fuel payment, worth up to £300, on the ground that the country’s average winter temperature is warmer than in southwest England, the warmest part of Britain.

Another 120,000 British pensioners living in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus will also lose the benefit from winter next year under a reform planned by the government.

Mr Boaden, 74, who ran six election campaign tours for Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, decided to investigate how Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, had been able to claim that French winters were so balmy. Using the Freedom of Information Act, he discovered that Mr Duncan Smith had included several French-speaking tropical islands and part of South America in his definition of France, bumping up the average winter temperature by more than 2C.

By including Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, Mayotte and French Guiana, where the average winter temperature is at least 20C, Mr Duncan Smith was able to claim 7C for France, above the 5.6C of southwest England. Without its tropical territories, France’s winter average falls to 4.9C.

Documents obtained by Mr Boaden from the Met Office reveal that it advised Mr Duncan Smith that France’s average winter temperature could be calculated in these two ways and that France on its own was colder than southwest England.

In a letter to Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Conservative MP who took up Mr Boaden’s case, Mr Duncan Smith wrote that the tropical places had been included because they were France’s départements d’outre-mer, “which are integral parts of the French state”.

Mr Boaden said: “The department for work and pensions has fiddled the temperatures for France to make it warm and thereby deprive hard-up British pensioners from having the winter fuel payments.

“Guadeloupe is very French, but it is 6,750 kilometres from Paris and enjoys temperatures in the 20s all year round. We need heat most days from mid-October to early June and the payment helps us with the €3,000 [£2,360] a year we spend on heating.

“Pensioners are being treated in a shameful way by this government.”

The DWP said: “Any suggestion of DWP manipulating figures is wrong. It is just not something that could have happened. Winter fuel payments are intended to encourage older people in Britain to keep themselves warm. They were never intended to be paid in warmer countries. This change is in response to an EU court ruling which exposes the taxpayer to increased risk of this happening.”

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