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"European judges accepted this was descriminatory"
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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 04:57 GMT
Winter fuel payments 'sexist'

John Taylor: "Blatant discrimination"

A retired postman has won his challenge to the government's rules on winter fuel payments after he argued they were sexist.

John Taylor, 64, told the European Court of Human Rights it was unfair that payments were made to women when they qualify for a state pension from the age of 60, while men have to wait until they are 65.

Our ultimate objective is to achieve equal state pension age for men and women
John Taylor
The ruling means that more than one million more men will receive the payment at a cost to the government of at least 20m a year.

Mr Taylor said he was delighted with the ruling.

"I've been fighting for two years for this and I'm very pleased with today's news," he said.

"All the over 60s should receive winter fuel payments now, but although we've won the battle we have not yet won the war.

"This is part of a major campaign and our ultimate objective is to achieve equal state pension age for men and women."

Social Security Secretary Alastair Darling confirmed that the European ruling meant the payment would be extended to everyone over 60.

But he warned it did not necessarily set a precedent in other areas, such as bus passes and the state pension, which is due to be equalised by 2020.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that if the court makes a ruling in one case that it necessarily makes it in another. European law is quite complicated here," he said.

"One of the things they took into account was that this is a new payment, and therefore we ought to have treated it differently."

100 payment

Mr Taylor, from Ryedale, North Yorkshire, took the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg last year.

In a preliminary ruling in September, an advocate-general of the court had already backed his case.

He rejected the government's claim that the inequality was legitimate because the winter fuel payments were linked directly to the different pensionable ages in the UK as "unconvincing".

The winter fuel payment, which was introduced in 1998, is payable to anyone receiving a state pension.

This year more than seven million pensioner households have received the 100 payment to help with fuel bills.

Sex discrimination

The case was referred to the European court last year after Mr Justice Scott Baker, sitting at the High Court in London, agreed it was appropriate for the challenge to go to Europe as it raised issues of EU law.

Mr Taylor - a member of pension campaigners Parity - had enlisted the aid of human rights group Liberty when he decided to fight the government's rules.

He said after the preliminary European ruling: "Is it fair that the fairer sex - no disrespect to them - receive the state pension at 60, plus winter fuels payments, plus statutory travel concessions, and an unemployed man of the same age does not?

"It is blatant sex discrimination, unjustifiable sex discrimination."

Liberty's Legal Officer, Di Luping, said: "The court's decision is a fantastic milestone for equality between men and women.

"The winter fuel payment should be made available immediately to both men and women over the age of 60 to avoid undue hardship this Christmas."

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See also:
24 Sep 99 |  UK
Man who came in from the cold
24 Sep 99 |  UK
'Sexist' fuel payments case backed
23 Sep 99 |  UK
Q&A: Winter fuel payments
09 Oct 98 |  UK
Winter heating case could cost millions

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