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British widow on benefits told to leave France

A British widow has moved back to the UK after being ordered to leave France within 30 days. 

She and her husband had been living on French benefits so were not self-sufficient and they were unable to prove their rights for a carte de séjour.

The woman and her husband, who has since died, had lived in France for more than 15 years and applied for a carte from a prefecture in the south. Their main incomes were from French disability benefits and, in her husband’s case, latterly the pension top-up benefit Aspa.

The couple could not show sufficient income so as not to be a burden on the state. This applies in the first five years of residency as an EU citizen if EU laws are strictly applied. For those not working, France applies the levels of the RSA benefit to under-65s (€550 for a single childless person) and Aspa for older people (€833 for a single person, €1,294 for a couple).

The woman, 59, appealed this summer after receiving an Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français (OQTF) - 30 days notice to leave - but has been rejected and says she cannot face bringing further court action. She said: “I have nowhere really to go. I would have fought to stay if my husband were still alive but for now I don’t have the heart for it.”

She added: "I am also worried I might not be entitled to health or other benefits in the UK for months as I have not been resident there. I will survive but would rather have stayed in France and grieved and then decided on what is next for me.

"I am grateful to France for what I received and for the life they allowed us to have. However I think there maybe many Brits who have fallen between cracks and it may be a great shock to many, though I hope not."

Chairman of the British Community Committee (BCC) of France Christopher Chantrey said: “Our fear is there could be other cases, especially with the fall in the pound.”

He said the Interior Ministry downplayed the possibility of expulsions at a recent meeting, saying it wanted to treat Britons well. He added that it also raises issues of access to UK housing and healthcare.

Connexion notes that this is the only confirmed case we know of and it involves residents whose main income was from benefits.

In all cases, to minimise problems, we advise readers to ensure they are fully in the system of French healthcare and tax.

Mr Chantrey said a no-deal scenario would be especially bad as the negotiated agreement to protect most of the rights of those who can show stable, legal residency, would be thrown into uncertainty.

 “All treaty rights – including S1s for healthcare – stop, unless there’s a unilateral move by the UK to continue to pay healthcare rights.”

 On November 6 a French draft law will be debated with the aim of empowering France to act by decree to deal with problems a no-deal would create, including the possibility of charging Britons for prestations (eg. pensioners’ healthcare) that currently receive UK funding if that stops.

 It says they will look at how the French in the UK are treated when it comes to rights of Britons in France. UK PM Theresa May last month repeated a commitment to protect the rights of EU nationals in a no-deal.

Mr Chantrey said he was angered that some UK media had sought to blame France for the potential effects of a no-deal – such as Britons becoming illegal residents or losing the right to work – as they were direct, predictable effects under EU law and not a decision of France. On the contrary the new French law aims to avoid the worst consequences

He said Interior Ministry officials have been planning a new website for Britons to apply for residency cards after Brexit. In the case of a deal, these would be a new kind, possibly saying Britan­nique. “However, there is a new Interior Minister and civil servants have to persuade a new team to adopt the previous ideas,” he said.

“They intend that you would give details online and the prefecture would invite you to come in only if necessary, or ask for additional documents, or contact you to get the card.

“I think they would want something similar if no deal but there would be more unknowns.”

He added the plan is that those who already have an EU residency card would be able to keep it for some time and then make a simple exchange – this is why it is advised to apply now. Some prefectures are processing applications well but the picture varies greatly, he said.

Another campaign group source said the ministry has again reminded all prefectures which documents are required after many reports of surplus requests. The ministry has also given assurances that Britons should no longer be turned down by prefectures, such as Bordeaux, as they “do not need cards”.

Prefectures with long delays for appointments – Niort was issuing dates in 2020 – are introducing new systems to improve this. To avoid wasting time, officials ask you only take required documents (see tinyurl.com/ycfdp49d) .

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