In Ben Svasti Thomson, General News, Uncategorised by Andrew Drummond22 Comments

 ‘In some cases Britons in Thailand are worse off than the poorest of Thais’ – British Honorary Consul

From Andrew Drummond, Bangkok September 11 2012

Is the British government condemning a large group of senior citizens to an early and excruciatingly painful death? Almost certainly it is playing a part, but health services and insurance companies are also to blame and among the worst hit are pensioners in Thailand.

The major part of the scandal is that the British government is refusing to pay cost of living increments to British pensioners living here even though they are clearly not a day to day drain on government resources.


That means a British pensioner who took his pension 10 years ago – is still getting the same pension. British pensioners living say in Europe get the full year on increments.The case has been fought at the European Court in the Hague so far without any success.

British pensions are also frozen in around 170 other countries including Australia, Canada and New Zealand but not strange enough, the United States or the Philippines.

This is despite the fact that the British Foreign Office itself categorises Bangkok as a ‘hardship posting’ and provides hardship allowances to Embassy staff. And for Bangkok the allowance kicks in at about half an expat Brit’s government pension!

This despite the fact that severe restrictions are placed on consular staff stopping them from over-assisting British nationals

Even Britain’s outgoing Ambassador Asif Ahmad is aware of the problem and raised it through the Foreign & Commonwealth Office having had confrontations with groups of pensioners in Thailand.

Britain pulled the rug from under its senior citizens

The result is that many pensioners, many of whom had frittered money away on their Thai families, on land deals and failed farm projects, cannot even cover the rising costs of living in Thailand let alone the cost of expensive private medical care, even the cheapest package.

In the case of medical care many Britons are now in a worse off position than the poorest Thai – and they have been stung three times.

  1. Private health insurance premiums are going up 8% per cent to 9% year on provoked by increasing hospital charges.
  2. Some insurance companies are refusing to insure after the age of 70 – even long term customers.
  3. Last year pensioners had the rug pulled from under them by the British government which has refused health benefits to all who have been out of Thailand for a period of five years. Their fall back: – that if things got too bad they could go home for treatment was taken from them.

 “The disaster has already begun and it’s going to get worse,” says Ben Svasti Thompson, who wears two hats, one as the British Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai, the other as the head of Lanna Care Net, an organisation which was set up to help elderly people in trouble in Thailand.

Ben Svasti Thomson is clearly not going to let restrictions stop him helping Brits in his spare time. But its a labour of love. In the worst case scenario more Britons will be committing suicide or dying painful deaths.

He has dealt with tragic cases including an elderly former Royal Marine Commando who was found collapsed in his house dying an extremely painful death of cancer without painkillers.

 “Many people come out to Thailand well enough off. They pay all the right insurances, but after a while they neglect health insurance, because they seem fit enough. When the time comes when bad health kicks in they cannot afford it. .

“Worse still we have had cases of companies refusing to insure people over the age of 70, even though they have been long term customers. There is an ethical question here. But this is a high risk business and they are not humanitarian organisations,” he added.

“Its worse for foreigners because at least poor Thais have the 30 baht health care scheme”.

His charity Lanna Care Net is trying to devise a no frills scheme even if it only covers 200 to 300,000 baht in medical services. That way, foreigners could at least get basic care in government hospitals and be able to pay their bills.”

In fact foreigners who pay tax and insurance and are on a house registration are entitled to some benefits and one of the things Lanna Care Net will be doing is to clarify that avenue.

“Currently a tremendous burden is being put on the Thai government health services which have the only places in Thailand who practice the Hippocratic Oath.

“Plans have been considered to make it illegal for foreigners to come to Thailand without health insurance but imposing that law is more difficult than it seems because of course retaliation would be made against Thais abroad.

“What we try to do is mediate with hospitals that tend to put up the price when they see a foreigner because they assume he has medical cover.

“And as in the case of the Royal Marine who was helped out by the British Legion when we told them of the case, we try and find funding, though we do not have cash to give out ourselves.

“At the moment we are dealing with sick Britons all over the north. We are trying to get permission to visit a British woman who is paralysed and uncared for. Everything has to be done by protocol.

“We are also trying to support the McKean Rehabilitation Centre south of Chiang Mai which does a tremendous amount of work in this field but desperately needs cash to carry on its good work.”


Coincidentally I had a meeting this week with a post grad researcher from Loughborough University at ‘Cheap Charlie’s in Sukhumvit to talk about the plight of British pensioners in Thailand.

Kate, from Somerset, now living in Edinburgh, is being paid by the British government to study expatriate lifestyles. She chose Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand as the place to spend a large part of her time and one of her major concerns was Britons of pensionable age.

The British Embassy/FCO is doing its own study and obviously wants to see her results. The gist of our conversation is that she thought the situation was also alarming.

Many elderly British ex-pats have already become part of a prisoner society in Thailand, unable to go home, unable to meet the costs of staying.

Hua Hin, she thought, seemed to have been as good a place as any (although I feel she may find some more desperate cases elsewhere), and she found a mixed bag, some realists, some not.

Most preferred the life-style to back home, which is not surprising at the moment. The most alarming was the fact that many did not have health insurance. They expected, they said, their Thai family would look after them in the normal way.

Funnily enough in the course of her research she seemed to discover equally as much about who murdered who in Hua Hin.

How you can help?

I am returning to this subject later but I would be grateful to have some case histories to hand. Where are the real hardship cases? They may not come fully out in university research or government surverys.  Do you know of any?

 Are you part of this group and finding it difficult to support yourself? Please let me know.

Have you been refused health insurance and why?

How much do you need to live per month?

All replies treated in confidence – Send to

To contact Lanna Care Net Call 0857098801  between 9 am and 5 pm or email


  1. jessica

    Hi Andrew… your comment.. "Last year pensioners had the rug pulled from under them by the British government which has refused health benefits to all who have been out of Thailand for a period of five years. Their fall back: – that if things got too bad they could go home for treatment was taken from them", do you not mean, all those that have been out of the UK for five years?
    It is also a great bone of contention amongst British pensioners here in Australia, I do believe their pensions are also frozen!

  2. jessica

    I think this very valid thread will bring out some very interesting results along with some pitiful stories. Personally I feel that if you have contributed to the British system then you are entitled to a British pension, in fact a British pensioner subjected to a frozen pension is saving the Government a small fortune. My father who is an American receives his pension in Thailand with the relevant increments, whereas my Mother's British pension is frozen.
    Bob Carr (Australia Foreign Sec) has recently had discussions with William Hague over this very matter!
    From what I understand regarding medical entitlement is concerned, the following applies…

    "Since the original announcement early this year, little up-to-date information has actually been released by the government. However, according to the Department of Health press releases and their website, there are new guidelines as to the eligibility for free treatment. British expats who spend less than three months a year in the UK will no longer have automatic free access to hospitals, clinics and GPs, except for emergency treatment, such as for a heart attack. Those seeking medical treatment could be asked to prove their residency status by showing council tax bills, pay slips and records of National Insurance contributions. However, there are further guidelines stating that to be exempt from medical costs, British nationals living abroad need to have lived continuously in the UK for 10 years and either have not worked abroad for more than five years, or if they have, they need to have taken home leave to the UK once every two years".
    The Pensioner (frozen pension) is in a no win situation really, not welcome back despite having fought for King/Queen & country, paid his/her dues, not entitled to a realistic pension, no medical bills etc but hasnt the funds to support his medical/medication
    costs overseas. I really dont know how British Politicians can hold their heads up high!

  3. SirGordon

    Unfortunately the UK is no different to any other country, where the politicians once elected just grab their salary, perks, golden handshake, exit package and bumped up pension and just try to do enough to get reelected.
    So since we poor ex pats are no longer allowed to cast a vote that matters to them they won’t give a stuff.
    Throughout my life I like many have worked harder than any politician or senior civil servant would know how to and trust me I have been unfortunate to meet quite a few. It’s not until you actually move amongst this rare breed of human that you can fully understand what a pathetic bunch most of them are. So won’t be holding my breath for my index linked pension.
    Sod it though, the Ghurkas quite rightly finally got justice so why not us. We need Joanna Lumley on our side. She knows how to handle a politician.

  4. Andrew Drummond


    I'm responding to your piece about 'static' UK state pensions paid to recipients in Thailand.

    In general terms, a British pensioner who has made Thailand his/her home will have done so on the basis of a relationship with a Thai. I would suggest that few move to Thailand independently. I therefore think your point can be broadened, as even if a given individual still qualifies for NHS treatment, a return to the UK might well preclude his/her spouse accompanying them. This is because, in July this year, the UK government made law a set amount of maintenance which is required of the sponsor for a settlement visa application to succeed. This amount (for a couple with no kids) is a gross figure of £18,600 per annum, and it is highly likely that those sponsors subsisting in Thailand on a UK state pension would not meet this threshold.

    The corollary is that should a British citizen be compelled to return to the UK after perhaps a number of years in Thailand, there is little chance that his/her spouse would be able to accompany him/her. This is a 'double-whammy' as not only have such folk had to eke out an existence in Thailand, but when-push-comes-to-shove, the British authorities make them choose between their well-being and their family.

  5. jessica

    @ Sir Gordon… I completely understand where you are coming from and who better than Jo Lumley to take up the cause!
    @Ralph, once again British pensioners are being penalised, where this ruling imo should apply to new migrants into the UK. Lets face it,ex pats without their spouses being able to join them, the caring capacity wont exist which in turn will be another burden on the state.
    Anyone with half a brain can see this has a nosebleed written all over these rulings!

  6. SirLance

    There are many ex pats living now in Thailand without any desire to return to the UK. The expense to just 'exist' in the UK makes any return unthinkable.There are no heating bills or rates to be paid here, food is very cheap and for pensioners the little money received goes a lot further in Thailand. 'Kate' the post grad researcher would be far better placed in Pattaya. She needs to infiltrate the 'Brit Ghettos' around Soi Yamoto and Soi Post Office where many long term and almost penniless British nationals frequent. Some of these 'lost souls' are well into overstay, have no medical insurance whatsoever and live from hand to mouth on a daily basis.Many ex pats refer to these persons as 'balloon spotters'. They see a bar where there is soon to be a birthday party and arrive only for the free food normally on offer,maybe they will buy a soda water whilst eating all they can till the see the next balloons on show. Then Kate can travel to the outer areas of Pattaya to meet the 'stone table set' the ex pat groups of friends that sit outside a 'mum and pop' style store just drinking cheap Thai beer and spirits! This is reality and not intended as a dig at some 'wasters' who also are in abundance in Pattaya. This situation is not confined to British nationals of whom there may be some 40,000 resident or staying at any one time, this also applies to many European persons 'existing in Thailand'.
    Britain is involved in a very costly,unpopular and what many say 'unwinnable war' in Afghanistan, the money expensed there could be channeled to helping distressed British nationals everywhere! Certainly the British Government could start by paying the full and long overdue pensions! The new Bitish Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Mr. Mark Kent will soon realise the popularity of the UK Foreign office and consular team here in Thailand once he starts to travel about and meet 'his people here'.I wish him every success!

  7. godfree

    With critical help from the folks at Lanna Care Net, I've completed a 40-page report about the health care options available to expats in Thailand. I plan to have it downloadable from my website but in the meantime anyone who wants one can email me using my screen name and I'll send them one.

  8. Andrew Drummond

    Jeesice. Thanks I have corrected this. While the Aussie Brits have exactly the same rights as the Brits in Thailand, many have in fact also become Aussie citizens, if not most I think. I may stand corrected. I hope for instance you would not find a Brit there dying an agonising death because he cannot get health treatment, but I could be corrected.

  9. Terence

    My understanding is that if a pensioner returns to the UK that after a period of 30 days at an address in the uk (say relative) they can notify that they are in the UK and their pension entitlement is then automatically increased to the whatever the current inflation increased payment is ie they are paid the same as any uk pensioner. Thereafter if the pensioner decides to leave the UK and go back to Thailand then on their return to Thailand their pension is again frozen but at their new rate. All in all it might take a 2 months visit to do. Return/register as back/claim entitlement for latest rate/decide to return to Thailand. I would be interested to know from any poster if this is essentially correct.

  10. westerby

    Apropos Ralph's email, it would have been reasonable to introduce the new settlement requirement if it were to be applied to those who married AFTER the date of its introduction. But this government is not reasonable. It only responds to opinion which has a political dimension. Expat pensioners have no constituency to speak of and that's the rub.Apart from making life difficult for the Ambassador there is little any lobby group can do. Shaming the current political establishment is pointless, they have no shame, are without any ethical code beyond that which serves their narrow self interests and are insensate to common decency.
    Their defence to incremental increases is that it would be too expensive, amounting to a couple of hundred millions in the annual State Pension spend and if backdated would amount to £2 billion. Given that the current spend on foreign aid is currently £12 billions most would recognise their objections as the hollow sham it is.
    One just has to accept the reality here: there is no political will to do the decent thing and no amount of lobbying will change the British Establishment's attitude to a scandal that has lasted for decades. Bear in mind, Britain has the worst State Pension in the developed world bar a couple of tinpot EU states so expecting change is as likely as an honest politician. To delude oneself that the FCO might be seen as a force for any supposed change is silly, they are at best chocolate teapots and glass hammers.

  11. Lee

    This is going to be unpopular – I know but unfortunately it is the reality.. Since when has Thailand advertised itself as a place where poor westerners are welcome to stay? The minimum income requirements for immigration purposes just proves that persons with no financial security whether young or old are simply not welcome here. It doesn't matter whether it is a guy in his 20's or 60's when they find themselves in these most unfortunate circumstances the same questions are always asked – "Why didn't you go home when you had the chance?", A basic State Pension is not even half of the required income for retirement visa.

  12. jessica

    Hi Andrew.. in reply to your post " Jessica. Thanks I have corrected this. While the Aussie Brits have exactly the same rights as the Brits in Thailand, many have in fact also become Aussie citizens, if not most I think. I may stand corrected. I hope for instance you would not find a Brit there dying an agonising death because he cannot get health treatment, but I could be corrected" I have to agree with you, Whether you have PR or you have citizenship we are exceptionally well treated by Medicare. Some visa holders i.e. Visa 457's are required to have medical insurance, but to be honest Andrew I cannot see any hospital turning away a sick patient.
    If you are a non tourist and not in receipt of Medicare then seeing a GP will obviously cost some dough.. i.e. it could cost anything upto $100 in some states just for the consultation alone without medication. Hospitals in general do not appear to concern themselves with finances imo.
    The British tourists enjoy a reciprocal agreement with Australia and I have always found prior to my citizenship it worked exceptionally well.
    What I would say is that without a "health card" some patients be it Australia, British etc who suffer ongoing chronic illness could find the cost of medication prohibitive.
    Without turning your thread into a Visa thread, I would have to say that older parents wishing to be with their next of kin might come across financial difficulties due to " Assurance of Support (AoS)

    All permanent parent and contributory parent visa applicants must provide an AoS before a visa can be granted and this requirement cannot be waived in any circumstances.

    An AoS (Assurance of Support) is a legal commitment by a person (not necessarily the sponsor) who repays the Australian Government welfare payments paid to a person applying to migrate during their AoS period. The period of an AoS is 10 years for the Contributory Parent category visas.

    All permanent parent visas are subject to a required (mandatory) AoS.
    See: Fact Sheet 34 – Assurance of Support" This is where it can become tricky financially.
    Going back to the subject of Thailand, having a father who is in his 80's and enjoying reasonably good health I am under no illusion that I will have to either home nurse or certainly pay for his medical expenses when the time comes. It goes without saying that this is what families are for, unfortunately there are many without that luxury.
    @ Lee.. many pensioners do not have that option I am afraid. This is your view as an ambulant healthy human being, but we are not living in the fairy tale world of perfection.
    Luckily the American government I think do realise that it cheaper keeping their pensioners away from the States and welfare payments and I know I am very grateful that the monthly cheques from Manila (US Pensions) keep my father afloat… after all he was in Nam, thats the least they could do.

  13. RobtheFox

    Terrance you posted about returning to the UK and claiming the uprate while there. You are not totally correct in what you say I'm afraid.
    If you return to the UK you are entitled to have your frozen pension uprated to the appropriate current rate payable in the UK and that is from day one and irrespective of the length of stay. Preferably you need to notify the Pensions Office before you go – by e-mail and stating you will confirm by letter post when in the UK (cheaper postage rates!). At the end of your visit you need to notify them again of the date of departure – a letter again (in my case posted in Heathrow). Provided you notify them within two weeks of your arrival in the UK your claim should be met in full. Delay longer and they may penalise you by only backdating for two weeks.
    I am sorry to say that when you return to Thailand, however long you have been in the UK, your pension rate reverts to the original frozen level. The only way to achieve retaining the increase is for it to be clearly demonstrable that your intention in returning to the UK was for it to be as a permanent resident e.g evidence of house purchase but subsequently decided to emigrate once again to a frozen country (not necessarily back to Thailand).
    Hope this helps.

  14. Pepe

    McKean rehab centre has done wonders over many years helping all Nationalities and even those who have run out of money or on their last legs. Got to give them credit for the work & energy they have done looking after foreigners who have had bad accidents; suffered incurable ailments etc. They are a No1 worthy org — Princess Di was a patron but its always worth a visit to talk to the patients if one has time.

  15. Terence

    Thank you RobtheFox for your post. You confirm how a UK pensioner on return to the UK can immediately be upgraded to the “current rate payable”. This remains in place for as long as the pensioner remains in the UK. Should the pensioner decide to return to Thailand or any other “frozen” country the pension reverts to its previous frozen level. The KEY to retaining the increased pension is to show that the intention in returning to the UK was as a permanent resident and you give the example of a house purchase and THEN a change of heart and a new decision to leave. This seems to open a way for pensioners to retain their increase who do not have the funds to purchase a house in order to demonstrably show their intent of permanent return. BUT if they lay a paper trail of their actions this could be used as a means of supporting a demonstrable intent of return. For example, cancelling a rental/ accommodation agreement in writing, selling their motorbike or car, closing any local bank accounts, purchasing a one way ticket back to the UK, researching prior to their return eg sheltered accommodation/ nursing home/old people’s homes/ and then visiting these places on their return. Or making an offer on a house near a relative even if they know it is unlikely to be accepted. It would seem to me that all or part of this demonstrates a permanent intent to return. Thereafter if the offer on a house is refused, or no suitable sheltered accommodation can be found etc the pensioner can change their mind and return overseas and hopefully retain their pension increase. If there is a decent paper trail then I believe this would not be challenged as the Government would not wish to be taken to court on an individual basis or receive an adverse ruling in the first instance.

  16. RobtheFox

    Terrance, thanks for acknowledging my posting. While what you say is possibly true about laying a paper trail it is, as you appreciate, not legal. I am sure you understand that i cannot annot condone such a plan – wel, at least in writing!

    There are some new laws coming into force next year regarding residency in the UK. They are I think designed more to try and close a tax loophole but are nevertheless relevant to the expat.
    There is a link which may help,which is

    I hope this helps a little more!

  17. Inspectorclueless

    "The result is that many pensioners, many of whom had frittered money away on their Thai families"

    Since when has a person supporting his wife and members of their immediate family been deemed to be "Irresponsible"?

    Answer…since successive British Governments frittered away it's own citizens National Wealth playing the International Money Markets, privatization and not forgetting Parliament gold plating it's own members pensions. I'll not mention quango political correctness or the strain immigration has put the British Governments fiances under at the risk of being accused of being a racist. I have a lovely Thai wife here. :-))

    Nothing new with any British Government not supporting it's own citizens, even the citizens who fought in the 1st and 2nd World Wars to give us the right of free speech.

    "Some people argue there is no reason why UK taxpayers should have to fund people who live abroad and are now contributing nothing to the British economy"

    Pensioners in Thailand with private pensions pay income tax on their pensions due the British Government having no reciprocal tax arrangements with Thailand. Personally I'd accept the tax relief and Britain can kiss my A**e goodbye!

    Finally, British pensions have been greatly devalued due to the reckless and ineffective political management of the Money Markets resulting in a world recession therefore weak pound worth approx. Approx. 40% less against the Thai Baht over the last 5 years. You pay for your pension using a good pound and any government wants to pay you in return using a duff pound" that's a fact of today's modern economic life. On a brighter side world armaments sales are still on the increase!

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