Almost half a million UK pensioners living overseas will be left out of pocket by up to £5,600 this year after being excluded from this month’s annual state pension increase.
They include the 103-year-old second world war veteran Albert Johnson, one of the last remaining survivors of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and his 95-year-old wife, Mary, who are originally from Lincolnshire and now live in Beechboro, Western Australia.
They are receiving UK state pensions that are a fraction of what they would get if they had stayed in the UK or moved to one of a list of other countries.
The couple are among 492,000 older Britons living abroad who are losing out as a result of the UK’s “frozen pensions” policy. These people’s basic state pensions do not increase every year, as happens in the UK, but stay at the level they were on the date the individual moved away if they had already retired, or became entitled to the payment if they were already living overseas.
On 11 April, all UK state pensions and most state benefits went up by 3.1%. As a result, the basic state pension rose by £4.25 to £141.85 a week, while the full new state pension went up by £5.55 to £185.15 a week.
This will give UK pensioners a little more protection from the rising cost of living but the 492,000 Britons who emigrated or retired to countries such as Australia, Canada and South Africa will not get a penny extra.
Some of the oldest “frozen pensioners” are receiving payments of only £30 to £40 a week, which never go up.
For example, a single pensioner who retired in late 1982 after having made the full contributions would be getting £32.85 a week, or £1,708 a year, if their pension was frozen then. If they had stayed in Britain they would now be getting £141.85 a week, or £7,376 a year.
The End Frozen Pensions campaign, run by the International Consortium of British Pensioners, says: “Although we welcome the rise in UK pensions, we are hugely disappointed that the UK government is continuing to treat British citizens living in an arbitrary list of countries unfairly.”
The UK state pension is payable overseas but it is not “uprated” annually unless there is a legal requirement to do so – for example, where there is a relevant reciprocal social security agreement in place.
There are more than 100 countries worldwide where the UK basic state pension is not uprated each year. In addition to the three mentioned previously, they include New Zealand, Thailand and India, plus British overseas territories such as the Falkland Islands.
The Johnsons believe the UK government’s policy on this issue is unfair, particularly as Albert gave “six and a half of the best years of my life [to] serving my country”.
In 1939, Albert – then aged 20 – was called up for military service, and at the start of 1940 he and a group of other soldiers were sent to France. He was evacuated from Dunkirk and later spent three years fighting in Burma (now Myanmar), during which time he contracted malaria and dysentery. He and Mary met after the second world war when he went to work on the same farm as her.
The couple moved to Australia in 1967, when Albert was in his late 40s.
His pension was set when he applied for the UK state pension in 1984, when he turned 65, and was awarded 81% of the full entitlement.
He receives about £28 a week, while Mary’s pension is approximately £17 a week (their pensions are paid into their bank account monthly – he receives A$199.75 (£113.82) Australian dollars a month, while she receives 119.61 dollars).
They also receive a fortnightly payment from the Australian government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which they qualified for because of Albert’s war service.
In a similar situation is Patricia Coulthard, who is 100 and relocated to Australia to be closer to her children during her retirement. She receives a pension that is frozen at £46 a week.
“I am now nearly 101 years old and, having been born in Britain and served as a nurse in world war two, it saddens me to think the UK government does not believe I am entitled to the same support as other British pensioners living overseas,” she says
The Department for Work and Pensions says there is information on Gov.uk about what the effect of going abroad will be on your entitlement to the UK state pension. It adds: “The government’s policy on the uprating of the UK state pension for recipients living overseas is a longstanding one of more than 70 years, and we continue to uprate state pensions overseas where there is a legal requirement to do so.”