By James Bryce
THE number of expats claiming the winter fuel allowance has soared by 50 per cent in just five years, leading to calls to scrap it abroad
The tax-free payment was claimed by 33,495 pensioners living in Spain last winter, making up a sizeable chunk of the 73,000 claimants in mainland Europe.
The payments to those overseas – available to anyone born before 1951 – came at a cost of 18 million euros to the UK coffers.
The 52 per cent increase represents a nine million euro hike from the 47,920 who claimed the payment in 2006-07.
It has led to calls for the allowance to be scrapped for those living in the traditionally warmer climes of the Mediterranean.
Emma Boon, a spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This is a shocking increase and is yet more evidence that we need to reform the welfare system.
“Money needs to go to those who really need it, not to well-off expats living on the Costa del Sol.
“The Government should scrap schemes like this because it doesn’t make sense to take people’s money in tax, then give it back in benefits that they might not want or need.”
Charity Age Concern however insisted that many local pensioners were in dire need of such payments.
A new wing in Madrid ACASA, run by case worker Angela Keay, is already helping to repatriate one pensioner back to the UK a month.
“A lot of people cannot even afford the flight home,” she said. “People don’t realise how much some elderly UK pensioners are suffering over here.”
The amount received, which varies depending on personal circumstances, can be as much as 350 euros each.