Winter fuel payments made last year to expats in Europe jumped nearly 60% on the year before to reach a record £ 21.4 million.
Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, blamed the rise on an EU judgement which last year meant anyone able to prove a "genuine and sufficient link to the UK" could qualify for the benefit, even non-Britons who had worked or lived in the UK for most of their life.
Mr Duncan Smith called the ruling “ridiculous”. “The winter fuel payment is designed to help British pensioners with heating costs,” he said, possibly unaware that most of the expat recipients are indeed British pensioners.
Some analysts, however, have argued that the EU ruling was one which obliged the UK to adhere to its existing legislation.
Payments were made to over 119,587 expats and pensioners with “sufficient links” to Britain who are living in the European Economic Area.
Until last year, fuel allowance benefit went only to pensioners who had claimed it at least once before leaving the UK. Last year's judgement meant that more British pensioners abroad could apply.
The allowance goes from £200 for 60 to 80 year-olds and £300 for people over 80.
From the total, £8.8 million went to pensioners living in Spain, and £5.1 million to those in France. Payments nearly trebled to £3.4 million in Ireland, while expats in Greece received £351,000.
The DWP spokeswoman said today: "It's ridiculous people in Spain can qualify and that is why we are taking action to stamp it out."
Last June Chancellor Osborne said that legislation is coming as quickly as possible to disenfranchise British pensioners in countries where the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest part of the UK.
Duncan Smith believes that France is a ‘hot’ country. He (one surmises) asked his civil servants at the DWP to include the tropical ‘departments’ of France in calculations of the average mean temperature of France through November to March.
The Director of The Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia considers that absurd. Here are the published figures by the CRU for Nov-March
France 5.08 C
French overseas departments of French Guiana, Martinique, Reunion, Guadeloupe and Mayotte ---- 25.46 C ; 24.58 C ; 22.18 C ; 24.6 C; 26.58 C
Average of France together with the first 4 overseas departments is 22.38 C with Mayotte (Comoros) included, 25.7⁰C
(Mayotte becomes included as part of the EU on January 1st 2014 - the rest already are.)
The average mean temperature for SW England is given by the DWP team as 5.6 C
Italy is 7.54 C and Ireland is 5.64 C – both above 5.6 C - they kept quiet about Ireland.
So the CRU data show Ireland and Italy warmer than the yardstick of SW England, --- and France is colder. It is an incompetent shambolic use of statistics: