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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK


Q&A: Winter fuel payments

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A UK pensioner's claim that winter fuel payments discriminate illegally against men has been backed by an advocate-general of the European Court of Justice. The BBC's Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg explains the significance of the decision.

Why did John Taylor think the fuel payments discriminated against men?
People are entitled to the fuel payments when they qualify for a state retirement pension. Women qualify for a retirement pension when they reach the age of 60; men have to wait until they're 65.

What is the next step in the procedure?
Today's opinion will be considered by a bench of judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. They can agree with it or reject it. They usually support the opinion of the Advocate General.

Will the government then be legally obliged to change the rules?
If the judges come to the same conclusion as the Advocate General, the government will have to pay fuel benefits to men and women at the same age.

If they do change the rules how quickly are they likely to come into effect?
It will be two or three months until the court delivers its ruling. If the rules are changed, they should take effect from the winter of 2000/2001.

Do you think they may backdate some of the payments?
I would not expect payments to be backdated to this winter. The government has already announced the details of this year's scheme.

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