Spending Review: 'Temperature test' for winter payments

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Media captionWinter fuel payments will be cut for those in hot countries, George Osborne announced

Expats who live in seven warm European countries will lose their winter fuel payments under a "temperature test" announced by the chancellor.

George Osborne said that the payment would be withdrawn from people living in warmer countries from autumn 2015.

This will affect those living in a European country with an average winter temperature higher than the UK.

The move would save the Treasury about £30m, the Spending Review documents revealed.

Expats in seven countries will lose the payment. They are: Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain.

Universal benefit

A recent European court judgement meant more people in Europe could now claim winter fuel payments, the Treasury said.

The proposed changes, which would require legislation, would offset the increased costs from this ruling, leaving the cost static, rather than cutting costs significantly.

Winter fuel payments cost the government about £2bn a year.

The payments, which are a £100-£300 tax-free sum, are currently a universal benefit paid to the over 60s each year.

Those aged over 80 tend to get the highest amount.

It is aimed at helping people to pay their fuel bills, rather than turning off their heating or keeping it too low during the cold weather.

The biggest bill for winter fuel payments in Europe - outside the UK - is for expats in Spain, figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show.

The cost for people there was £5.78m in the winter of 2011-12, according to the most recent statistics.

This is one of a list of seven countries that have been defined as having warmer winters than the UK.

The list was compiled by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which analysed which countries were warmer on average between November and March than the South West of England - the warmest part of the UK. It used a data set from the last 29 years.

In addition to Spain, the amounts spent in 2011-12 were £926,000 in Cyprus, £3.1m in France, £34,000 in Gibraltar, £240,000 in Greece, £189,000 in Malta, and £356,000 in Portugal.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: "While the introduction of a temperature test could allay concerns about expats in hot countries receiving the payment, it is important that proposals for change do not complicate the system or result in those in need losing out."

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