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British ex-pats push for pension thaw as 'unfair' freeze hurts Canadian pocketbooks

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British expats are once again calling on the United Kingdom government to end a long-standing state pension freeze. 

It's estimated that 126,000 Canadians are being hit by the freeze, which has locked payouts at the rate they were when the pensioner left the U.K., or when they retired if they emigrated before their pensionable age.

That means their British state pension doesn't increase annually like those back home. 

Anne Puckridge, a 98-year-old Second World War veteran, has lived in Calgary since 2001 and says the problem has become especially noticeable as inflation increases. 

"I came to join my daughter who is over here with her family," she told CTV News. "And I put into the (fund) up until I stopped working (at the age of 76).

"You expect to get the pension that other pensioners get who paid for it on the same terms."

Anne Puckridge, a 98-year-old WWII veteran, has lived in Calgary since 2001 and says the problem has become especially noticeable as inflation increases. Puckridge says her payments have been frozen at £72.50 pounds a week since she arrived. That's far below the current basic state pension, which is scheduled to increase to £156.20 in April. 

That's a weekly difference of £83.70, or about $141 CAD. 

She estimates, all told, she's been denied more than $100,000 during her time in Calgary. 

"I think it's quite a slap in the face," Puckridge said. "I'm not starving, but I'm not enjoying any real quality of life."

GLOBAL CONCERN

Expats living in places like the United States or the European Union receive a full pension that's annually indexed, thanks to reciprocal social security agreements.

But despite pressure throughout the years from Ottawa, Canada has not been successful in striking a deal. It's still one of 106 countries impacted by the freeze, which is likely saving the British government hundreds of millions of dollars. 

That is an outrage to Calgarian Sheila Telford, who is the director of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners (CABP). 

The group has been pushing for change for years. 

"It seems absolutely ludicrous to us that pensioners living in the United States can get their pensions uprated every year, and if they're in Canada, they're frozen forever," she said. "Over 90 per cent of frozen pensioners live in Commonwealth countries."

Australian, New Zealander and South African pensioners are also frozen. 

"We were given no warning at all," Puckridge said. "If I'd had known, I would have definitely never come to Canada."

LOCAL SUBSIDIES

Luckily for Canadian pensioners, there is some help from Ottawa. 

The government does offer subsidies that can increase if the pensioner falls below a certain income level.

But that doesn't sit right with Puckridge for a few different reasons. 

"Every time I go to Canada for a little bit of help or anytime they give it to me, I feel like I've gone with a begging bowl," she said. "They shouldn't have to take pity."

She's also worried about the impact on taxpayers. 

Telford estimates the non-indexation of the state pension is costing the Canadian economy $450 million a year. 

PETITIONING FOR CHANGE 

Despite years of trying, Telford and Puckridge -- and thousands of other expats -- have been unsuccessful in lobbying for change. 

But they still have hope. 

They believe upcoming trade meetings between the British and Canadian governments would be a great time to reopen the discussion. 

They've recently launched an online petition to reiterate how widely panned the freeze is across the country. 

In less than a month, it's garnered upward of 141,000 signatures. 

"It will help us in the United Kingdom to show politicians the support we have," Telford said. "We want to put more and more pressure on the major parties before the next election."

Puckridge agrees.

"It's a bad policy, and that's why we're determined to fight it until the bitter end."

BRITISH RESPONSE

CTV News reached out to the Department for Work and Pensions for more information about the freeze. 

A government spokesperson sent a statement saying, in part, that it understands that people move abroad for many reasons and that it "provides clear information about how this can impact their finances."

It added the policy is a longstanding one of more than 70 years and that it continues to uprate state pensions overseas "where there is a legal requirement to do so.”

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