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U.K. heats up over fuel payment

Stephen Beard Feb 22, 2010

U.K. heats up over fuel payment

Stephen Beard Feb 22, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Forget the Greek debt crisis that was all the rage two weeks ago. The United Kingdom is having public financing problems, too. And the Brits are looking around for any spending cuts they can. One tempting target is the special government payments keeping British senior citizens warm in the chilly European winter.

But it seems some of the folks getting at least $380 a year or more to keep warm may not be all that cold at all. From London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: The Fuel Payment is aimed at helping older Brits survive the country’s long, hard winters. As a government advertising campaign points out, anyone over the age of 60 can apply for the payment.

GOVERNMENT AD: It’s dangerous for you to be cold in the winter, and this is the time when you really need to seek help. A lot of people don’t realize…

People get the benefit, regardless of their means, or where they live. And that includes some of the Brits who’ve retired to warmer climes.

TV SHOW: If you thought owning a place in the sun was out of your reach then think again.

Egged on by TV shows like this one, hundreds of thousands of Brits have made their homes abroad, in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy — 64,000 of them are still receiving the winter heating subsidy from Britain.

Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers’ Alliance is not amused.

MARK WALLACE: I, like most other people who’ve come across this story, was amazed that anybody ever thought it was appropriate to give these kind of payments to people who’ve had the good fortune to retire to the sun.

British taxpayers have forked out more than $150 million in winter fuel payments to these sun-tanned expats. This has got to stop says, Wallace. But the Mediterranean retirees have their defenders.

LESLEY SNODIN: If they have in fact paid their taxes into the British system then I think it’s fair that they do carry on receiving this payment.

Lesley Snodin of the National Energy Action group says the retirees deserve and need the winter heating subsidy.

SNODIN: Countries such as Germany, France, some parts of Spain, Portugal, even Italy do have winters very similar to Britain and their energy costs are quite comparable.

But a chill wind is blowing through Britain’s public accounts. The deficit is widening fast. The Brits are shivering at the thought of all that debt. For the sun-seeking pensioners the outlook is cloudy.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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