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‘UK lied to me over pension rights’

A British woman living in Normandy has launched a campaign called British Pensioners for Justice in protest at the removal of lifetime guarantees on pensions and healthcare due to Brexit for British pensioners who have founded new lives abroad built on EU rights. Here Christine Esteve, who is in her sixties, explains why she is so angry.

Readers should note that the extension of British state pension uprating beyond the UK financial year 2022-2023 has not been ruled out but is not guaranteed in the absence of bilateral deals between the UK and EU or UK and individual states (this only applies, for existing residents in France, in the case of no-deal). As for healthcare, in the worst-case scenario where the UK ceases to pay for the British pensioners, those living legally in France would be entitled to move on to the national Puma system which under current rules is free apart from for those with substantial incomes from sources like private pensions, investments or rents. However it could mean the loss of a French social charges exemption linked to not being a burden on French social security.

I live on the Cotentin Peninsular and moved out here permanently to write fiction at what had been my French holiday home in 2004. In my previous life I was a journalist.

The reason I am so angry is because when I took the decision to retire here I contacted the Department for Work and Pensions and asked them straightforwardly ‘would my pension rights be secure and guaranteed if I retired in the EU?’ and I was told ‘yes’.

In follow-up discussions with the DWP I was persuaded to transfer all my tax affairs to France and have my pension paid into a French bank.

Like a lot of people who have retired here, I’ve seen my pension dwindle in the last two years as Brexit has hit home, because of the value of the pound against the euro.

Most people have lost a lot of money and those who have been trying to exist on their state pension alone are now below the amount the French government has been asking for to keep your French residency [editor’s note: Ms Esteve is referring to the maximum levels expected for those applying for current cards as EU citizens, which equate to the level of the Aspa pension top-up, although officials are asked to be flexible and to consider individual circumstances. The rules in the no-deal laws are explained here].

Some of those pensioners have been having their pensions topped up by the French government because under EU law everyone has to have equal treatment.

The continuation of our healthcare under the S1 scheme is also under threat.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and have been having treatment for it. A number of my friends who have also had cancer treatment have gone to private companies to see how much insurance premiums might be and have been quoted around £17,000 - £20,000 a year.

The UK government said it would continue paying for a year if you are in the middle of a treatment, but most people of our age have a long-term health problem, whether it’s diabetes or arthritis, that is not going to be cleared up by October next year.

So it’s very worrying to think we might turn up for medical treatment and be presented with a bill we can’t pay.

I’m getting 100% cover at the moment for my cancer treatment, but what will happen next year, I’ve no idea.

The other concern is the idea of freezing our pensions from 2023 – it would make it even less likely that people can continue their residency in France.

Our pensions are an individual contract between the state and the citizen based on National Insurance contributions – I paid in 39 years and have only had five years of pension so far.

Like many people, I had private pensions that were obliterated by the financial crash.

But the point is this: people bothered to find out about their rights before they moved to the EU as retirees.

If the government is trying to say they want to bring the EU pensioners in line with pensioners who moved to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, those people were informed before they left that their pensions would be frozen and most were moving to work and to join state pension schemes that were much more generous than the British one anyway.

“If you try to retire in those countries as a pensioner you have to place a really large deposit of money into a bank to cover your needs. So the idea that this is bringing us into line with something else is ridiculous.

“Before we came we were told your rights are guaranteed and protected – and now they’re going to take them away.”

People should also be aware that the UK is threatening to remove the right to be self-employed from EU citizens in the UK – and if Macron reciprocates that could cancel the right to be a micro-entrepreneur in France [editor’s note: this relates to the no-deal scenario, and regulations on working rights currently being considered by the UK government].

There was a demonstration against Brexit in Granville and that is when my campaign started.

Leaflets were distributed and we told the local press, but I’m extending it now and we have linked up with British in Europe and I have written to [their deputy chairman] Jeremy Morgan QC, who spoke in the House of Lords last week about these issues. We feel very confident he will also take up our campaign.

If necessary we may have to take the British government to court to stop them doing this.

Most people only got letters about how our rights may be revoked, a couple of weeks ago, so that is why the campaign is new.

The other appalling thing is that some people didn’t even receive letters, but text messages.

We’re not going to take this lying down.

The idea that the government might instead negotiate 27 different agreements for pensioners is just ridiculous.

Previous articles

QC tells Lords UK should do more for Britons in the EU 

UK's no-deal report offers no comfort to British pensioners abroad 

UK sends Brexit letters to UK pensioners in EU

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