Expats seek equal place in the sun: Your pension value depends on your address. Pensioners want payments indexed to inflation, writes Robert Cole

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The Independent Online
BRITISH expatriate pensioners are redoubling their efforts to persuade the Government to increase in line with inflation all pensions paid to retired people living overseas.

Benson Zonena, the president of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, is in London to launch a new campaign highlighting the pensioners' plight.

He is organising a 'Red Letter Day', hoping to inundate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Social Security, and several other MPs with a million letters of complaint from expatriate pensioners.

The pensioners are angry because about half of them get payments which are adjusted in line with price increases, but the other half find the level is frozen as soon as they depart the UK.

There are about 350,000 pensioners with a static entitlement, mostly living in Commonwealth countries, particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. There are 265,000 others living in countries listed in the table who are lucky enough to have their pensions indexed.

This bizarre anomaly came about by accident. British entry into the European Community led to an improved status for UK pensioners in most Continental countries. Individual agreements were struck with others on the list.

Mr Zonena calculates that for two pensioners who both moved abroad in 1965 - one to a Commonwealth state, the other to an EC state - the total difference between pension payments would be pounds 29,000. A pounds 4 a week pension paid in 1965 would have grown by 14 times for the lucky expatriate.

Mr Zonena hopes that each pensioner affected will write three letters. He wants to co-ordinate the exercise so that all the letters arrive within a 48- hour period.

He said: 'Frozen pensioners are very angry indeed and are utterly disgusted at the British Government.

'The Canadian and Australian governments have made repeated representations to Britain to end this illogical discrimination,' he added. The Queen has also been asked to intervene on behalf of the pensioners.

When Mr Zonena was in Britain three years ago highlighting the apparent injustice, he met Gillian Shephard, who was then the Social Security minister.

However, the plight of the pensioners - which would cost about pounds 275m to rectify - has so far remained unrelieved.

A date has yet to be settled for the Red Letter Day. Mr Zonena is at present attempting to co-ordinate pensioner action groups from around the world. He is particularly eager to make contact with Australians and South Africans.

A spokesman for the Department of Social Security said the welfare system was designed to help UK residents.

He added: 'In a time of tight public expenditure, we have to consider the extra cost (of indexing the frozen pensions) alongside other competing costs.'

COUNTRIES WHERE PENSIONERS' PAYMENTS ARE INDEXED

Austria Italy Belgium Jamaica Bermuda Luxembourg Channel Is Malta Cyprus Mauritius Denmark Netherlands Finland Phillippines France Portugal Germany Spain Gibraltar Sweden Greece Switzerland Iceland Turkey Ireland USA Israel Yugoslavia.

(Photograph omitted)

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