British state pension benefits claimed by expats are an ‘anomaly’ of the welfare system and a debate should open about whether they are curtailed as part of the austerity program.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was speaking in general about state pension benefits, but gave a clear indication that many policymakers were looking to axe these benefits to claw back £10 billion of savings.
For expats, the state pension is safe – at least for the time being – but the age-related Winter Fuel Payment of £200 – £300 looks certain to go as soon as Duncan Smith can cancel the payment.
He agrees pensioners need the government to safeguard their money as few have the option of working to increase their income.
However, he takes a hard line with wealthy pensioners claiming benefits out of greed rather than necessity and claims their action makes defending their case difficult.
Give the money back
His suggestion is better-off pensioners should hand the money back.
“There are lots of anomalies in the benefits system. We could go almost anywhere to some of the universal nature of some of these benefits,” he said.
The government has recently lost a court case brought by a British pensioner living in Switzerland that demands the winter heating allowance is paid to retirees living in Europe and some other countries, regardless of whether they need it.
“I’d be inclined to send it back. If you honestly think it’s going to pay for your holiday then give it back, because it’s not what it was meant to do,” he said.
Duncan Smith has promised to introduce a weather ruling that stops pensions in warmer countries from claiming the allowance if temperatures do not drop below a certain level.
He also divulged the main reason why he had not acted on cutting benefits like free bus passes and free TV licences was an election pledge made by Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The reality is this: the Prime Minister absolutely pledged quite categorically at the last election that he would not be interfering with those benefits, which reassured a lot of pensioners and I think if the Prime Minister gives his word on something like that I’m happy to accept it,” he said.
“My view is pensioners don’t have the one option that people of working age have. They can’t really increase their income, because they are no longer able to work.
“Work is transformative. It gives you a greater chance of a greater income. You can affect your life while you’re of working age, so you have scope and opportunity. Pensioners do not.
“We do need to have a little bit more protection and sensibility around pensioners. They are remarkable. They gave so much. We need to make sure we do our best by them.”