About 2,000 Thai wives of British men stand to lose their UK pension rights under legislation under active consideration by the British government. The new law proposes to end pension payments to foreign spouses on the general grounds that many such wives have “never set foot in Britain at all.”
Under current law, foreign spouses – nearly all female – are entitled to claim a married person’s allowance based on their partner’s history of national insurance contributions. Where the British spouse’s contributions are inadequate, a one-off bereavement payment is made.
Of the 2,000 Thai wives who stand to lose up to 6,000 pounds a year, or nearly 300,000 baht a year, about 500 are believed to be in the Pattaya area. Many of them have been drawing UK pensions based on their deceased husband’s contributions for many years. Under the proposed rule-changes, a foreign spouse would not receive a pension unless they had made regular financial contributions to the British government. The total number of foreigners likely to be affected globally is nearly a quarter of a million.
There are several reasons why the British government is determined to end the “give-away” pensions. Firstly, it is seen as a cost-cutting exercise during economic hard-times. But there is also the growing trend for couples to meet on-line for the purposes of marriage. Steve Webb, British pensions minister, said “New technology facilitates relationships across the continents in a way that wasn’t the case 20 years ago.” Research in Thailand suggests that many women here marry British men to ensure they have an income for life.
However, pension experts say the devil is in the detail and that an administrative nightmare is likely to ensue. Interim arrangements will probably mean that foreign wives who have never been to UK will lose out altogether and immediately. But Thai wives living in UK will be in a very different position, especially as many already have their own national insurance number.
Philip Coulter, a Pattaya-based British man with a Thai wife who has only made brief trips to UK, said “The British government is clearly washing its hands of its responsibilities. I have paid national insurance contributions all my life so why should my wife be penalized after my death just because I happened to fall in love with a Thai?”
British newspapers are also speculating that the new move has been sparked by the prospect of same sex couples being able to get married in UK. “The British government is trying to avoid footing the bill for thousands of foreign gays once their British husband shuffles off this mortal coil,” wrote a blogger commenting on a Daily Telegraph article.