By Bejay Browne
AS Cyprus is battered by a spate of bad weather British expat residents have reacted angrily to the news that thousands will lose their winter fuel allowance as the British government tables legislation before parliament to introduce a benchmark temperature test.
In recent days, Cyprus has been coping with freezing temperatures, snow, hail, heavy rain and strong winds, and yet, the British government’s new test will see pensioners living in Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain lose the right to claim their winter fuel allowance payments. The new legislation is expected to come into force next week in time for winter 2015-16.
The new test, which expat residents say is ludicrous, is aimed at stopping payments being made to British residents of countries where the average annual temperature is higher than the warmest region of the UK – the South West at 5.6C (42F). Around 8,000 expats living in Cyprus look set to lose their allowance, which will reportedly save the British government £1.4 million in payments.
Over the past few days, Cyprus has been hit with sub-zero temperatures in many areas and according to the met office, daytime temperatures of only around 2°C were experienced inland.
Colm Connolly, originally from Dublin, worked for many years in the UK before moving to Cyprus 12 years ago. He is urging the British government to rethink the move to abolish winter fuel payments to retired expats living in Cyprus, warning of serious repercussions. He said the new legislation is ridiculous and could result in deaths due to hyperthermia.
“This move is crazy and shows a lack of knowledge of how cold Cyprus is during the winter months. At the moment it’s cold even by UK standards,” he said.
Connolly warned that pensioners would be forced to choose whether to buy food or heat their homes.
“State pensions are small and can’t cover everything, there will be fallout and it may even lead to deaths. There will be cases of hyperthermia and if people are found in time, this will put pressure on hospitals. There aren’t adequate care facilities for people here.”
Connolly received the winter fuel allowance for the first time last year and said he feels he is entitled to continue claiming the payment.
“We have paid into the system for years and for the government to say we don’t need it is ridiculous, it’s perishing here in the winter.”
Alexander Mclaine, a retired expat living in Anavargos village in Paphos agrees.
“We have paid our taxes and should be given the choice whether we need the payment or not. Those with enough money wouldn’t take it.”
He described the weather in Cyprus as bitterly cold during the winter and pointed out that homes are not built with sufficient insulation as they are in the UK.
“The past few days have been very cold here and until now I have received this allowance which is very helpful. I get 200 pounds sterling a year which is paid into my UK bank account.”
The winter fuel allowance is £200 for the over-62s and increases to £300 for the over-80s.
Many expat residents say the temperature test is irrelevant and that as they have paid into the system for years, the winter fuel allowance is an entitlement which shouldn’t be stopped.
Richard and Kate Dean are in their 60s and retired to Paphos in 2012. Since then they have received an annual payment of £200.
“We have both paid into the system in the UK for 47 years and have taken nothing out. We are entitled to this money and we are still paying taxes in the UK.”
Dean said the couple feels especially riled as the British government allows people entering the UK to claim state hand-outs without ever having paid into the system.
Dean noted that the payment only goes some way to paying for the couples winter heating bills and this year’s payment has already been swallowed up.
“It’s cold in Cyprus in the winter, and I think some people believe this is always a warm country and so everything must be hunky dory all the time and it isn’t. We have high ceilings and tiled floors; homes here are built for the summer. It’s very cold and a gas fire will only heat a small space.”
Another expat resident who resides in the hills above Paphos said the subject should be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Brian Clark retired to Cyprus ten years ago and said that the British government have got their priorities wrong and that once again pensioners are being forced to bear the brunt of penny pinching.
“Stopping this fuel allowance to Brits living abroad is discrimination. If it’s colder in the UK, so what, if people have paid into the UK system they should be entitled to the same benefits from the pot they have topped up as people still living there. The government seems to forget that we have worked and paid all our lives. They’ll be stopping our pensions next.”
He added that the situation is made worse by the way in which others are treated.
“Scroungers from the UK and other countries get hand-outs all the time – this all from our hard earned money. The state of the country is a disgrace and is why so many Brits have left.”
The British Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is quoted as saying the payments are absurd and an obscene waste of tax payer’s money. He said the winter fuel payments are for British pensioners to help keep them warm.
He is quoted in the British press as saying: “It’s absurd and offensive that taxpayers are funding these payments for people who have retired to the Mediterranean and enjoy warmer weather.”
Following the implementation of the new legislation, the payments will still be available to expats in: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.