Living with the low pound
Elizabeth Finn Care, a charity helping low-income Britons, is increasingly active in France
Elizabeth Finn Care, a charity helping low-income Britons is increasingly active. Its representative Mary Hughes explains what help is available to those hit by the low-value pound
MANY people reliant on income from the UK face financial difficulties as the pound slips further against the euro, but help is at hand.
There are groups across France to assist expats, such as British associations or bodies like Cancer Support France and the Royal British Legion.
Many social groups find themselves increasingly called on to help with financial difficulties and isolation. Some associations organise language classes and are a source of vital money-saving ideas.
Elizabeth Finn Care (EFC), a British charity which operates across France, was founded in 1897 to assist certain people who had fallen on difficult times. You must be British or Irish, on a low income and have less than €5,000 savings.
We assist worldwide and have been focusing our attention on the plight of those living in France for many months. This year we have received over 140 requests for assistance and have been able to help the majority of cases which has alleviated a considerable amount of stress and hardship.
We can help with a grant of up to e30 a week as well as white goods and home repairs and advice about other help that may be available.
EFC feels so strongly that the needs of expats must not be ignored that it decided to recruit a permanent member of staff in France to deal with the applications.
Once people become clients of the charity they are not forgotten after the initial assistance has been given. Depending on the type of award given they may get an annual visit and they are also remembered on their birthdays and at Christmas. This also applies to their partner and dependent children.
For EFC to maintain its high level of service to clients it is reliant upon a growing force of volunteer visitors.
Fortunately, the response to requests for help in previous articles published by Connexion means that EFC now has more than 70 people who have offered their time and effort in order to help those in need.
So far, 25 volunteers have received formal training and are ready to visit clients, and the remainder will be given training over the next few months. Due to the size of France, applicants wanting to become volunteer visitors are always welcome.
The world-wide recession seems set to continue and the state of the UK economy means that the exchange rate is likely to remain poor for the foreseeable future. As a result, my colleagues in the EFC head office in London and I anticipate a continued, probably increased, requirement for assistance.
If someone contacts us but does not meet our criteria we will make every effort to signpost them to other charities and organisations which may be able to help.
Unfortunately there are few UK social security benefits that are transportable to France (see below).
The state retirement pension is one of them and it is increased at the same rate as in the UK. The UK’s winter fuel allowance is another benefit many older expats are entitled to.
When it comes to UK disability benefits, despite the fact that the European Court of Justice ruled in October 2007 that UK citizens living in other EU countries are entitled to claim disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance the UK government is still being very slow to comply.
Moreover a “mobility component” of DLA is not deemed to be exportable so the benefit is worth less than to people in the UK.
Depending on their circumstances some people may be entitled to one or more of the many benefits available from France, like allocation de solidarité aux personnes âgées (aspa). This is available to those living in France permanently and below certain income thresholds. They must be over 65, or between 60 - 65 and recognised as being unable to work.
Their current monthly income must be less than €692.44 for a single person and €1147.14 per couple and the benefit tops them up to the latter amount for a couple or to €677.13 for a single person. You also have to declare capital possessions (not including main home) and 3% of the value is included as part of your “income.”
While it is unusual to be asked to repay any aspa during your lifetime, it is repayable out of any part of your estate exceeding €39,000. You apply through your mairie (see the Connexion website Practical section for more details) for this, but, for those who have not paid into the French social security system through work, it is ultimately administered by the Caisse des Dépôts in Bordeaux.
To receive French benefits you must be registered to pay tax - even if you fall below income thresholds and do not pay any.
For many you have to apply via your caisse d’allocations familiales (caf). These include family, rent and single parent allowances and disability benefits. The RSA income support benefit, which is similar to aspa but for those aged 25 - 65 who are unemployed or on low incomes, is also managed by the cafs. Anything to do with health, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the cpams (caisses primaires d’assurance maladie).
In the case of some benefits whether or not they are awarded can vary from department to department and according to the helpfulness of the social worker involved.
There have been cases where the circumstances of two mothers of young children have been virtually identical and one received full child benefit while the other, in a different department, was refused. Some people have encountered sympathetic, helpful officials, while others have come away from meetings empty-handed and demoralised.
Unfortunately, people have to be persistent and must insist on being granted benefits to which they are legally entitled - it is not easy, especially if there is a language problem and they feel frightened and depressed. In the first instance information should be sought from the local mairie.
In many cases, returning to the UK is not an option. There is still a large disparity between French and UK property prices. Also, depending on how long they have been abroad, someone returning may not be eligible for any UK benefits until they have been resident for six months: they must meet the “habitual residency test.”
They could also find that even if they managed to sell their French home this could result in a Catch-22 of not having enough money to buy a UK property but having too much capital to claim UK benefits.
Contact Mary Hughes on tel: 04 68 23 43 79 or email@example.com
or EFC in London on 0044 207 396 6700 or 0044 800 413 220. See also www.elizabethfinncare.org.uk
Both French and British social security benefits can help
BRITONS in France can still claim some UK benefits, if they meet qualifying criteria, while they may also be eligible for some from the French state. The main British ones are:
- State pension (as well as similar benefits for younger people who cannot work due to long-term illness or disability).
- Benefits to help disabled people cope with daily life, formerly cut off for expats, are now “exportable”: carer’s allowance (for those helping a disabled person), attendance allowance for people aged 65 or more who need help with personal care due to disabilities) and disability living allowance (a similar benefit for younger people). See www.direct.gov.uk and search under “taking disability benefits to other European countries” to see the conditions for taking these abroad or making a new claim. Those who formerly benefited but were cut off are being urged by campaigners to reapply and to appeal if refused. The campaign website is http://dla-ecj.weebly.com or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The UK’s exportability team can be contacted at email@example.com
- Winter fuel payments - Britons who were living in the UK when they reached 60 may be eligible. See the Practical section of our website or call the winter fuel payments helpline on
00 44 191 218 7777 (Monday to Friday, 8.00 - 20.00 UK time).
- Bereavement benefits - you can claim widowed parent’s allowance or bereavement allowance from abroad (however the latter, for childless widow/ers only lasts up to 52 weeks) and you may be eligible for a lump sum bereavement payment.
- Jobseeker’s allowance - may be payable for up to three months only in France.
- For a list of UK benefit helplines see the links section of our website.
When it comes to French benefits, some rely on you having made French social security contributions while others merely require residency. Your mairie’s centre communal d’action sociale (ccas) should be the first port of call. They, and your conseil général (departmental council) can advise on help available locally to elderly people such as portage de repas (meals on wheels) or foyers restaurants (discounted canteens) and on benefits like the elderly people’s income support aspa, aide ménagère (towards home help) or the allocation personnalisée d’autonomie (help with dependency needs), the latter two not being cumulable. Bodies called clics can also advise on help for the elderly.
At the other end of the age scale, 18-25-year-olds starting in work can apply to the caisse d’allocations familiales (caf) for a means-tested interest-free loan the prêt jeunes avenir. Many other benefits, like aide personnalisée au logement (housing benefit) or various allowances for families with children are also administered by the cafs. Basic allocations familiales (child benefit) are not means-tested, while others like the complément familial are. See www.caf.fr then Particuliers (put your postcode in for details of your local caf). The main disability benefit, allocation aux adultes handicapés, is means-tested and you apply to the Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées.
For healthcare there are two means-tested benefits. Those on the couverture universelle maladie system may be able to get CMU complémentaire, which covers the part of healthcare that is not normally state-reimbursed, or (with a slightly higher means threshold) aide complémentaire santé towards top-up insurance.
The French version of jobseeker’s allowance (aide au retour à l’emploi), for those who have worked in France, is administered by local pôles emploi (formerly two bodies, anpe and assedic).