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Expat pensions case reaches European Court of Human Rights

2 September 2009

A long-running legal battle by around half a million British pensioners who retired abroad against a government decision to freeze their pensions reaches its final stage in the European Court of Human Rights today.

The government decided in 2000 that it would only protect from inflation the pensions of those who retired within the European Economic Area or lived in countries, such as the USA, where there are reciprocal social security arrangements.

A test case brought by writer Annette Carson, who retired in South Africa, was rejected by the Court of Appeal in 2003 and by the House of Lords in 2005.

Carson initially emigrated to work in South Africa, but continued to make full contributions to her UK state pension. On her retirement in September 2000, she was entitled to a basic state pension of £67.50 a week.

In April 2001, the basic state pension for people living in the UK, Europe and certain other countries was increased to £72.50 per week, followed by further increases every year. Carson’s pension remained at its original level.

She claimed she had been discriminated against on the grounds that her residence in South Africa was a “personal characteristic” for the purposes of article 14 of the ECHR.

Giving judgment in R v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, ex parte Carson [2005] UKHL 37, Lord Hoffmann said there was “nothing unfair or irrational about according different treatment to people who live abroad”.

He said the system was not intended to maintain the living standards of inhabitants of other countries, even if they had past connections with the UK.

Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at Age Concern, said it was unfair that pensioners who had paid their national insurance contributions all their lives should be penalised for retiring abroad.

The ECtHR is not expected to deliver its judgment before March or April 2010.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Discrimination Funding Pensions