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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK


Winter fuel case goes to Europe

Last year pensioners received £200m to keep warm

A retired postman's claim that the government is guilty of sex discrimination over winter fuel payments is to be referred to the European Court of Justice.

Kim Catcheside: "Lawyers are confident of winning in the end"
John Taylor's High Court claim argued that it was unfair to make men wait longer than women for the benefit aimed at helping pensioners pay fuel bills.

Woman are entitled to winter fuel payments when they retire at the age of 60, but men have to wait until they are 65 to qualify.

But Mr Taylor, 63, believes the government is breaking an EC directive on equality in social security.

Help others

Mr Justice Scott Baker, sitting at the High Court, 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 raised issues of EU law.

It is thought that it may be another 18 months to two years before a judgement is reached in the Luxemburg court.

By that time, Mr Taylor will legally qualify for winter fuel payments.

But after the hearing, he said he hoped his action would help others.

[ image: John Taylor: Going to European Court]
John Taylor: Going to European Court
He said: "I am challenging the government here and now to recognise the injustice, the discrimination, against all these men and women.

"The winter fuel payments should be paid to all the over 60s forthwith.

"Somebody has got to make a stand. If Emily Pankhurst had not gone to Royal Ascot, where the hell would women be now?"

His solicitor, Philip Leach, legal director for human rights organisation Liberty, added: "We do think we have got a strong case.

"There's no justification for discrimination on the basis of sex when paying out winter fuel payments.

"A lot of these battles are long-term battles, but we think we will win in the end."

If the landmark case is won, more than one million men between 60 and 65 will be able to claim the payments, costing the government between £13m and £26m a year.

[ image: Gordon Brown: Cut VAT on fuel]
Gordon Brown: Cut VAT on fuel
Last year £200m was paid out to give pensioners help with winter fuel bills, worth £20 for a person living alone.

Winter fuel payments were upgraded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown last year.

He said the government was not prepared for pensioners to be "fearful of turning up their heating even in the coldest winter days".

It followed the cut in VAT on fuel from 8% to 5% in his first Budget in July last year.

In 1996/97, more than five million cold weather payments were made, at a total cost of more than £42m.

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03 Jan 98†|†UK
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