Winter Fuel Payments, for British expats in Europe, were first threatened in an ‘exclusive interview’ for a national newspaper. Iain Duncan Smith, then Minister for Work and Pensions, attacked British expat pensioners saying it was “absurd and offensive that taxpayers were funding such payments for people who had retired to the Mediterranean and enjoyed warmer weather” and that it was “an obscene waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Following a four year battle for the truth, DWP has finally been exposed as having lied over statistics used to justify stopping Winter Fuel payments to British citizens living in Europe. DWP originally refused a Freedom of Information request to reveal the number of UK citizens living in Malaga who qualified for the payment, claiming it would be too complex and costly to extract the data needed to make payments on a regional basis.

But EU First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) Judge Claire Taylor disagreed, and instructed DWP to produce the figures; DWP subsequently apologised and provided the long awaited statistics to Mr Roger Boaden, a former senior conservative party official for 30 years. The information proved beyond doubt that DWP had lied, and lied again, for four years. In fact, DWP had pressed the Met Office to produce figures to take account of climatic differences and to provide a robust methodology for the payment of the Winter Fuel Payments by regions; starting in May 2012, DWP and the Met Office spent at least fifteen months preparing for a regionally based policy. The Met Office used recognized administrative regions for each country; for France this was 27 regions, including French Guyana, Guadeloupe, La Reunion, Martinique and Mayotte. DWP then deliberately avoided advice that an average temperature value for the period November to March could be calculated for each of the 22 regions across France, and changed the policy from one based on regional temperatures, to one based on national temperatures. At that point, France was shown with a national average winter temperature of only 4.9°C - below that of SW England - which would have meant that every ex-pat living in France would continue to receive the Winter Fuel Payment.

This did not fit in with Iain Duncan Smith’s declared objective of stopping all payments to UK Citizens who had exercised their right of free movement across Europe. A further Freedom of Information request revealed that there had been extensive discussions between DWP and the Met Office to identify ways of stopping payments, an action finally admitted by DWP. In fact, DWP officials added the winter temperatures of Tropical Zone French Territories to those of Metropolitan France to ‘manufacture’ a winter temperature for France of 7° Centigrade.  Under Iain Duncan Smith, and with skewed and manipulated statistics, DWP lied and lied again to deny the Winter Fuel Payment to certain ex-pat UK pensioners across Europe.

It is interesting to note that a petition to the EU resulted in the Chair of the Committee on Petitions deciding that this was nothing to do with EU Law; it was a ‘national problem’. Where have we heard than one before? An ‘opinion’ from the EU Commission dated 3 August 2016 suggested that a petition to reverse DWP’ policy was ‘no longer admissible’.  However, after an angry response giving references for case law, the petition was reinstated, one hour later, as admissible! So much for the independent integrity of EU justice – but then we know all about that from the frozen pensioner Ann Carson case!

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