THE present UK government does not like expats, they obviously constitute a huge threat, they are people with the gumption to get up and go, and tries at every opportunity to discriminate against them, writes Anita Rieu-Sicart.
The majority of people who have emigrated in the past few years, and hundreds of thousands have done just that including the younger, talented ones with skills to countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA etc. have little to lose in pension benefits.
But the older generation, who have lived and worked in the UK for the whole of their working lives, paid their tithes in income tax, PAYE, National Health Contributions, you name it, every tax under the sun, many thousands of them are faced with reduced incomes, small pensions, and gallumphingly high living costs in the UK on petrol, travel, huge utility bills and housing costs.
And in this case, those with disabilities, living in reduced circumstances, have opted to cash in their equity and move abroad into the European Union, mainly because it is cheaper to live there, and one gets better health care.
Now one particular government department, that of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which responsible for the disbursement of disability benefits and allowances (DLA), is striking out in a particularly vicious way, by withholding justified benefits, despite specific EU regulations that make it possible to export pensions and benefits.
Tina and John Hamilton moved to the Pas de Calais in France June 2006, John had been in receipt of a DLA allowance (care & mobility components) since 2000, following a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
On informing the DWP of their move, John's DLA benefit was immediately stopped. Despite following the advised appeals procedure from that point on, submitting the proper forms, they got nowhere, never even receiving acknowledgement of their complaint.
However in an Internet forum they noticed reference to an European Court of Justice (EJC) ruling and wrote a letter (March 13, 2008) to the DWP Exportability Team to request reinstatement of benefit under the ECJ judgement of October 18, 2007.
A reply was received on May 6, 2008, to the effect that the DWP 'could not make decisions on claims from customers who are already living in an EU state or Switzerland' as they were 'continuing discussion with the European Commission on eligibility conditions' for these people.
The letter finished with the sentence 'We will contact you again when further information is available, you do not need to contact us again'. Needless to say they received no answer.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) had already ruled on October 18, 2007 that the UK had illegally stopped paying benefits, including carer's allowance (CA), disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA) by over-riding existing exportability rules in a case brought by an expat association in Spain (ukgovabusesexpats.co.uk ).
As such, anyone currently based in the UK receiving these benefits is able to export certain components if they choose to relocate within another EEA state or Switzerland.
In addition the government's very own website now states very clearly:
Taking disability benefits to Europe The European Court of Justice decided on 18 October 2007 that certain disability and carers benefits are sickness benefits and may be paid to people who leave Great Britain to live elsewhere in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
The decision affects:
Disability Living Allowance (care component only)
The mobility component of Disability Living Allowance has not been affected by this judgement.
Despite these very clear statements the Hamiltons have met nothing but obstruction, and what can only be interpreted as delaying tactics from the relevant DWP department.
Their case has been taken up Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet (their former MP), who has tabled numerous questions to the Minister on the subject, both on their behalf, and for an every increasing number of expat claimants who equally are being discriminated against by the DWP.
On February 2, 2009, Roger's oral parliamentary question on the subject, elicited a somewhat muddled and incorrect reply from DWP Minister Rosie Winterton: "We have been clear that if people claimed the benefit before they moved abroad they are entitled to continue to claim it. For people who are eligible for it, it is frozen at the limit at which they received it before they left."
This statement was then corrected by the Minister in a letter of apology to Roger Gale of February 9, which said: "We have been clear that if people claimed the benefit before they moved abroad they are entitled to continue to claim it for people who are eligible for it. It is not frozen at the limit at which they received it before they left."
In addition the Minster pointed out that the eligibility criteria was set out in the above quoted Government website.
The Hamilton's however still get no answers, or even acknowledgement of their applications with the appropriate forms.
They are not alone.
Barry Twyman worked as a Prison Officer for 22 years, before being pensioned off with a severe disability, sustained after an accident. He brought up his children in the UK, but moved to Montpellier several years ago.
He said: "Since moving to France I have had an 'enquiry' every six months into my benefits and status, it is withheld for months at a time, and deductions suddenly imposed with no reasons given.
"Roger Gale MP has assisted me in getting an inquiry into why I am being harassed, but, even though he has taken my case to the House of Lords , there have been no satisfactory answers.
"Up to six members of the DWP have dealt on a separate basis with my benefits. Every six months I have had benefits stopped, to be later re-instated after much stress and harassment. I have no proof, but it seems the DWP act without proof or reason against me, as a pensioner living in the EEC.
"With Roger Gales' aid I got referred to 'The Monet Team' who really have helped me, and even got to some of the clerks to find out who authorised the disruption of my benefits. But they too came up against a wall of silence and obfuscation
"I am still owed £163.00 plus in stopped benefits, and a new letter arrived in November starting up yet another investigation into my life and status."
As Barry says: "I have never (in the UK) had a days unemployment, I pay all my tax in the UK, and feel 'victimised' by the attitudes I have personally encountered."
A similar situation exists in Spain, where Peter Beardsley lives, he said: "I satisfy all the necessary criteria to continue to receive my Disability Living Allowance while living abroad.
"We moved to Spain in February 2007 and I have been receiving the Benefit since then. By definition, my wife, who received Carers Allowance when we lived in England, satisfies the criteria under the ECJ ruling and should be receiving the Carers Benefit. However the DWP are withholding her carers allowance, despite the fact that she meets all the requisite criteria."
The Hamilton's finally succeeded in finding out, via the Freedom of Information Act, that 1,518 individuals had been permitted to export their benefits in the year since the ECJ ruling on October 18, 2007 - almost the same amount as the number of expats (1,700) that have requested reinstatement of benefits and are still being denied them!
The latter figure may well only be the tip of the iceberg, ie the number that the Ministry will admit to.
All these claimants have paid into UK systems all their working lives, and in many cases are still paying into the UK tax system but are being denied benefits for which they qualify.
The attitude and actions, or rather inaction, of the DWP really give one pause for thought. Are they just totally incompetent, yet another government ministry totally unfit for purpose?
Or might the answer be that the inaction, harassment, deliberate obfuscation is rather due to specific instructions from above. Who knows perhaps some ministry 'mole' might provide an answer.
As MP Roger Gale commented earlier in a press release: "It would seem that it is in order for UK taxpayers to contribute to benefits paid to those who arrive in the UK from overseas but that this government is prevaricating over the implementation of the decision of the European Court and is reluctant to pay out to those who have contributed to the UK tax system for most if not all of their lives.
"I regard this as shoddy behaviour and I have asked our new Shadow Minister, Mark Harpur, to take up the issue."
The incidental fallout of this unlawful withholding of benefits by the DWP has been to unify expats all over the Europe in their condemnation, and into positive action.
As a result of this campaign, hundreds of signatures are now flowing in to Tina Hamilton's petition to the Prime Minister, and hundreds of email letters from affected claimants demanding the reinstatement and back payment of their DLA (care component), Carers or Attendance Allowance in accordance with ECJ ruling C-299/05 of October 18, 2007 are flooding into email@example.com marked specifically for the Attention of Ms Kettle.
This current government are doing everything in their power to ensure that British citizens, unlawfully robbed of their legal entitlement to an exportable benefit, continue to be prevented from receiving any monies due to them.
However their attitude and actions may result in an 'own goal', as the matter has stirred so much anger and resentment, via extensive internet coverage, that expats Europe-wide will now register to vote, and make sure they use their vote at the next election.
Anita Rieu-Sicart, is the editor of the website and English language newsletter the Var Village Voice.
A dedicated website for the campaign has been set up at: http://dla-ecj.weebly.com/index.html
The French Life, 20th February 2009