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Pound’s decline leaves pensioners fearing for future

The drop in the value of the pound is affecting tourism but it is also hard felt by many Britons living in France.

28 August 2019
By Connexion journalist

The most critical cases involve retired people who depend on a UK pension.

The value of the pound against the euro has dropped by 15% since the 2016 EU referendum and is now 8-9% above parity.

A 71-year-old woman from Hérault, who asked not to be named, told Connexion she did not know how she was going to manage on her dwindling state pension, which has dropped from €750 to €735 a month in the last couple of months.

The house she bought is more expensive to maintain than she thought it would be.

She is in poor health needing medical treatment which she says has been outstanding in France, although she can no longer afford a good mutuelle.

“It is no life having to stay in the house without being able to do much,” she said.

“I need ongoing medical treatment and am unlikely to obtain such good treatment in the UK but that will not continue here after 2020, according to reports.

“I now fear being thrown out due to a low income.”

The British Charitable Fund, which gives grants to residents living in hardship in France, says it has seen an increase in the number of requests for help. In July alone, it reviewed seven new applications, compared to one in the whole summer of 2018.

The charity’s welfare committee chairman Julia Howes said two requests came from single women relying on their UK pensions. The other five were suffering severe medical problems, made worse by the stress of their financial situations, Brexit, or trying to get cartes de séjour.

She said: “We have been asked to help working-age Brits who have used up all their savings and cannot find employment in remote areas where they have chosen to live.

“Some depend on the British community in their area for work but fewer Brits are maintaining or buying holiday homes, and those who do come have less money to spend on odd-job gardeners, cleaners, etc.

“Of the 70-odd households we help every month, the vast majority face health problems, including depression, often made worse because they cannot afford to eat properly.

“They do not heat their homes and avoid medical visits.

“We are not optimistic of improvements in the short term.”

Gill and John Halstead (pictured left) moved from Oxford to a converted barn near Le Puy-en-Velay, Haute-Loire, four years ago.

Mrs Halstead retired from her job in research ethics at Oxford University at 60, and Mr Halstead, 71, was already retired.

They bought the house in 2009 and carefully budgeted for the move. “I am so angry that after planning our life in France, our assumptions have been turned on their head by events outside our control,” said Mrs Halstead.

“Our pensions are constantly going down, and we never know what sum of money we are going to see in our bank account. I suffer anxiety and have begun medication. The uncertainty is a never-ending cause of stress.”

They converted part of their house into a gîte and she said: “It was originally just a nice idea, now it is a necessity. Luckily, it is working well. Even so, we can no longer afford luxuries. We never go to restaurants and I can’t afford my French lessons.

“We think we will move into the gîte this winter to save on heating bills. We never had a luxurious lifestyle but now it’s becoming simply miserable.”

Rosie and Phil Hawes (pictured below right) moved from the Isle of Man to Balledent, Haute-Vienne, in 2014 with their son Cameron, who is now 15. 

Mrs Hawes was in the police force and retired at 48 with a generous pension which, the family calculated, meant they could live in France.

Mr Hawes was 58 at the time and gave up his job as a horticultural adviser. He ran a seasonal bike hire company to bring in a bit of extra money.

“At first, that was plenty for us to live on,” said Mrs Hawes.

“However, since 2016 mypension has dropped in value by a quarter. We have had to look at other ways of supporting ourselves.

“My husband has started gardening work and we had converted a tiny house for fam-ily or friends to stay in but are running it as a chambres d’hôtes.

“As this is seasonal, I will teach English for a few hours a week in schools. My son is studying mechanics with an apprenticeship so he will be paid for two weeks a month, some of which he will put towards accommodation and food.

“We applied for a grant but were over the qualification amount by €100.”

The family would not go back to the British Isles, even if they could afford to. “There are far more opportunities here for Cameron and the health service is fantastic,” said Mrs Hawes.

“There is nothing we can do about the situation, so we just have to adapt.”

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