British ex-pat pensioners living in Mediterranean countries will lose their rights to claim the winter fuel allowance from September 2015, the ‘Daily Mail’ reports.
The UK government plans to introduce a new ‘temperature test’ to stop payments being made to countries where the average annual temperature is higher than the warmest region of the UK – the South West at 5.6C (42F).
The new ruling will affect people in Portugal, Spain, Greece, France, Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus.
The newspaper says that in 2002-03, only 8,000 people in 16 countries claimed at a total cost of £1 million.
But huge growth in take-up and EU expansion means that in 2013-14 a total of 135,285 people in 30 countries received £133 million.
It includes 50,000 people in Spain, 30,000 in France, 3,300 in Portugal, 8,000 in Cyprus and 2,000 in Greece.
The winter fuel allowance is worth at least £200 for the over-62s, rising to £300 for the over-80s.
Official guidance says it is supposed ‘to help pay your heating bills’ and is designed as a flat sum for all pensioners to put towards the costs of keeping warm during the icy winter months.
But EU rules mean it can be paid to expats if they can show they have a ‘genuine link with the UK’, and the money does not necessarily have to be spent on energy bills.
As a result thousands of people living in warm European countries are able to receive the money, and spend it how they like.
Minister of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith said: “It’s absurd and offensive that taxpayers fund payments for people who have retired to the Mediterranean”.