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Champion of British expats battled for improved pensions rights

Tilley tried to arrange the dancer’s repatriation. He explained the difficulties. Most pensioners dread the thought of being forced to leave a country that they had grown to love and where they have formed close friendships – and they are often even more apprehensive of being sent back home, perhaps into the care of relatives who barely remember them. “If they were paid their right pension, they’d be okay,” Tilley would storm.

He became a committee member of the International Consortium of British Pensioners. Over the years, the consortium raised the money to sue the UK Government for discrimination through the UK’s High Court, later its Appeal Court and then both chambers of the European Court of Human Rights. All efforts were unsuccessful.

He ceaselessly lobbied politicians. He lobbied Bob Carr when he ran into him at his eye doctor’s surgery. He would point out that the UK’s policy was costing Australians billions of dollars annually, both in reduced pension revenue from the UK and the cost to Centrelink of “topping up” the pensions of long-standing UK retirees to bring them in line with the Australian aged pension.

Meanwhile, he complained that the UK was not only cutting the cost of its pension bill, but saving the age care costs of the tens of thousands of pensioners who had retired to Australia.

His campaigning had an effect, although it benefitted Australia rather than British pensioners. It has introduced legislation that makes it much more difficult and expensive for pensioners to immigrate here. Australia continues to pay its recipients the full, indexed pension wherever they choose to retire.

Jim Tilley was certainly a man you would welcome to your corner. He was relentless and passionate. He even succeeded in attracting some British politicians to join his campaign. Even so, he must have often felt overwhelmed by the UK government’s implacability. He was certainly depressed by UK reports that, despite Brexit, the UK would continue to pay the annual pension increase to Britons retired in Europe while continuing to penalise those in Australia and most other Commonwealth nations.

One of his last published requests, made from his sick bed, was that the Australian government call for the abolition of the frozen pensions policy in all future trade talks with the UK.

He died after a short battle with a brain tumour. James Tilley was awarded an Order of Australia for “services to seniors” in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours’ list.

His wife, Margaret, died in February. He is survived by his son, Alan; his daughter-in-law, Chantal; and his granddaughter, Sophie. His younger son, Jack, predeceased him.

Ava Hubble

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