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Fuel payments battle referred to Euro court

A RETIRED postman's claim that the Government is guilty of sex discrimination against men over winter fuel payments is to be referred by the High Court to the European Court of Justice.

John Taylor, 63, of Malton, North Yorkshire, claims it is discriminatory that under current laws, women are entitled to winter fuel payments when they are 60, while men have to wait until they are 65.

Yesterday Mr Justice Scott Baker, sitting at the High Court in London, was told by Dinah Rose, appearing for Mr Taylor, that both sides had agreed it was appropriate for the legal challenge to be referred to the European Court as it raises issues of European Union law.

The judge said: "I have formed the appropriate view that is the appropriate course."

Mr Taylor, who will not qualify for the payment for another two years, said before the brief hearing: "I am one of 1.2 million men aged 60 to 65 in the UK, the majority of whom are unemployed and but for their age would receive state pensions, winter fuel payments and travel concessions.

"I'm amazed at this discrimination, especially since the Government has recently signed the Amsterdam Treaty."

If he wins his case, it is expected to cost the Government an extra pounds 20m to pounds 26m a year to foot the bill for the pounds 20 one-off payments. Last winter, pounds 200m was paid out overall on winter fuel payments.

After yesterday's decision to refer the case to Europe, Mr Taylor threw down a challenge to the Government not to await the outcome but to allow the payments straight away. He said: "I am challenging the Government here and now to end a clear injustice and make winter fuel payments to all over-60s - as they are intending to provide free eye tests to all over-60s from next April."

The irony for Mr Taylor is that the referral to Europe could take up to two years, by which time he will have become eligible for the payments in any event at age 65. He said his wife, Ann, has just turned 60 but is not eligible for the payments because she does not qualify for a state pension.

The key issue the European Court will have to decide is whether the Government's 1998 social fund winter fuel payment regulations are in breach of the 1979 EU directive on equal treatment, which prohibits sex discrimination in social security schemes.