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Expatriate Health Insurance News: Winter fuel payments to expats rise 70 per cent

Winter fuel payments for expatriates living in mainland Europe have risen by 70 per cent in a single year, according to figures released by the government.

In the winter of 2011/12, payments to the European Economic Area and Switzerland stood at £12.8 million, but have increased to £21.4 million this year.

A ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has changed the criteria for entitlement, meaning that as well as British citizens, those with a genuine connection to the UK are eligible for the payments.

The tax-free benefit can be anywhere between £100 and £300 depending on the pensioner's age and family circumstances.

Last year 75,000 households within the European Economic Area and Switzerland received the payment, but this year the figure is more like 120,000 homes.

Of these, nearly 50,000 people live in Spain, while a further 30,000 have set themselves up in France.

The situation is set to change, however, as by the autumn of 2015 anyone living in a European country where the average winter temperature is higher than that of the UK will no longer qualify.

This will affect pensioners in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus.

Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary, said: "The winter fuel payment is intended to help British pensioners with heating costs.

"From winter 2015-16, we are changing the rules so that it no longer goes to people in EEA countries with an average winter temperature higher than the warmest part of the UK."

There has been much debate over the issue in recent years with some people believing those in warmer parts of the world should not be entitled to the payment.

The flipside of the argument is that the majority of these people have paid into the state all their working lives and have contributed to the fund that supplies such benefits.

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