MP pushes for reassurance on uprating of UK state pensions for Britons in EU
As the UK officially announces it is leaving the EU an MP tells Connexion he is pushing for reassurances on pension uprating for Britons in EU countries such as France.
While the UK is an EU member British pensions of French residents must be increased annually as they are for UK residents, but the future is unknown.
Conservative Sir Roger Gale, known for campaigning on issues including exportable disability benefits and the Winter Fuel Payment for expats, says he has hand-delivered a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May on this and will also talk privately to Brexit Minister David Davis.
He said: “I’d like to be able to tell the expat community ‘don’t worry’ – and they don’t have to worry for a couple of years – but I can’t say in all conscience that everything will be all right. I think it will be but I don’t know.”
He added: “I am trying to get an undertaking that the pensions of expats in the EU will be uprated because if there is no agreement then the British government and future governments could say ‘we haven’t got a reciprocal agreement, so we’re freezing the pensions’ [as happens for Britons in many countries]. It could have a fairly devastating effect downstream.”
Sir Roger said he hopes the government agrees to continue to uprate pensions of all British pension holders moving to the EU, however as a fall-back he would like reassurance on the pensions of anybody already living in the EU.
“I told the prime minister that the matter must be addressed and as it would surely be impracticable to seek bilateral agreements with each EU state I would hope unilateral uprating of the pensions will continue as before.”
He added: “I am also seeking reassurances on healthcare and – the thing I think is most vulnerable, considering Iain Duncan Smith’s attitude towards the Winter Fuel Payment in France – the exportable benefits.
“It was a European Commission ruling that said disability benefits were exportable and had to be paid but if we are no longer bound by its rulings, a government could take the opportunity to withdraw payment.
“I hope to be able to secure the payments of Disability Living Allowance, Carer’s Allowance and Attendance Allowance for everybody in the future, but my fall-back position would be for people currently receiving them to continue to receive them.
“Whether we will secure them for new claims after we leave, I don’t know; it’s up for grabs.”
Sir Roger said many people had asked why the UK had not offered immediate guarantees to EU expats in the UK and had said they should not be used as ‘bargaining chips’.
“The answer is we have to negotiate and, well forgive me, but it’s the only bargaining chip we’ve got,” he said. “And I consider that we’ve got to look after our own first, that’s to say the UK citizens in the EU.
“However hopefully that means striking a deal that suits everybody. There are huge numbers of businesses – there are several in my constituency [North Thanet, Kent] – that rely heavily on EU labour, including the NHS and large swathes of agriculture, and hotels, restaurants and pubs. Without all those people the country would come to a grinding halt.”
Regarding pensions, Sir Roger added that should no EU-wide agreement be arrived at (which he would prefer not to be the case) it might be possible to make new bilateral agreements with the countries with the largest British populations – France and Spain – and the fact that there was a France-UK social security agreement, including uprating, before the UK joined the EU, might help set a precedent.
“Deals with France and Spain would cover the majority of Britons in the EU, however Britons in other countries would be aggrieved as, for example, are Britons in Canada whose pensions are frozen whereas, for historical reasons, they are uprated for people in America.”