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Expatriate Healthcare News: 74,000 British expats claiming winter fuel allowance

A record number of British expatriates have claimed a winter fuel allowance, despite living in warmer climates, it has emerged.

Nearly 74,000 expat pensioners claimed the benefit, which is not means tested, this financial year, showing an increase of more than 1,000 compared to last year, reports the Telegraph.

It is thought that the number of expats claiming the sum of more than £200 may go up again in coming years, after a ruling from the European Court of Justice meant that more people can claim it.

Previously only those expats living within the European Union over the age of 60 who had received the payout prior to leaving the UK were eligible for the sum.

Now all those British expats of 60-years-old or over living in a European Economic Area country can claim the allowance, which could stretch to 444,000 people.

The system currently costs the UK government £15 million, but has the potential to grow to £100 million if all those eligible decide to claim.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has suggested that a temperature test be introduced in order to see which expats need the allowance, as many live in warm climates, such as that in Spain.

Winter fuel payments are unlikely to be cut before 2015, however, as David Cameron has pledged not to strip them back for the duration of this parliament.

They currently stand at between £100 and £300 and are automatically paid to those born after July 5th 1951 and receiving a state pension.

Those who qualify, but do not automatically receive payments need to apply in order to ensure that they are given the sum.

It is designed to ensure that elderly people are not forced to go without heating in the winter months due to their financial situation, but has been criticised for being given to those who can afford to heat their homes without it.

Payments are usually given between November and December each year.

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