Great Britain

Stranded Fagley man raises fears over benefits

A BRADFORD man stuck in New Zealand has raised fears that he and others like him could lose their benefits because they have been trapped abroad for so long.

Neil Pilkington, of Fagley, visited the country to see his girlfriend but he has now been stranded there and the rules for his Personal Independence Payment state if he is out of the country longer than 13 weeks it will be stopped.

That period takes him to the end of April and, with the prospect of few flights back to the UK before then, he feared that the coronavirus lockdown could mean he is excluded from benefits.

But a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions has said as long as a claimant contacts them about their situation and they have got it on record, they should continue to qualify for their benefit.

Mr Pilkington, who does voluntary work at home with Marie Curie charity shop in Shipley, needs help with his disability to go with his small pension

He says he does not hold out much hope of being able to get home soon even with the announcement on Monday that the British Government are working with airlines to fly home some of the million Britons estimated to be stranded abroad.

He is due to fly back with Emirates but has had no joy in trying to get a seat home with them.

He is in touch with the British High Commission in Christchurch where he is staying.

He said: "They are not sure the agreement includes NZ and even if it does we are a long way from being considered for help. Emirates never seems to be discussed in the arrangements.

"I have found that Emirates will not refund my return fare. They will offer me a return flight at no extra cost once they resume which is likely to be in a few months."

The British High Commissioner in New Zealand says that 10,000 Britons have registered to get home from the country. In an email to stranded Britons Laura Clarke said: "You might have seen that our Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced a new partnership with the aviation industry to help get British people home. A lot of you may be wondering what it means for you here in New Zealand.

"It hasn’t been decided yet whether the programme will include New Zealand – I don’t want to over-promise. There are Brits stuck all over the world, some of them in quite dangerous situations and with inadequate health care systems. And some in countries where there are no routes out whatsoever.

"If the programme does end up including NZ (and I should repeat there have been no decisions on this yet), it won’t happen straight away. And it won’t be a silver bullet – we have 10,000 people registered with us who want to leave.

"So even if there were to be chartered flights, we would still need commercial flights as well. So we are continuing to work on commercial routes, increasing the number of options and – I hope – reducing prices, as competition increases. So far we’ve supported people to get onto flights with Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic and Malaysian Airlines.

"I’m acutely conscious though that for many of you, flights out of Auckland don’t help, given the issues with domestic travel in New Zealand. I know that’s incredibly frustrating. We are working both to increase the number of flights out of Christchurch, and working with the NZ Government to find a solution to the domestic transport issue – and keeping you updated as things develop."

Mr Pilkington added: "I'm one of the lucky stranded here as I have a roof, food and company during the lockdown here. Supermarkets have plenty of stock but due to social distancing there are very long queues to get into them. Everywhere else is very quiet on the roads and as in UK all non essential business are closed.

"The people here in Chistchurch are warm and friendly all be it at a 2 metre distance. They are taking this natural disaster with the same calmness that they have displayed in recovering from their last one nine years ago when struck by the earthquake.

"Although I can keep in touch with my parents (both over 70) via internet I do miss them and am also concerned for all my voluntary and work colleagues at the Marie Curie charity shop in Shipley which I understand has had to close.

"I wish to say hello to all that know me and wish everyone strength and good health."

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