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UK should act now on pensions, health, benefits

Uprating the UK state pensions of British people living in France for life – not just three years – after a no-deal Brexit is in the gift of the UK government and should be guaranteed now, a Tory MP has told the British prime minister.

The UK must also immediately guarantee UK state pensioners’ healthcare payments, or risk an ‘exodus… of very many elderly people to the UK’.

Sir Roger Gale, known for speaking out on expatriates’ rights, has written to Boris Johnson drawing attention to the insecurities of Britons abroad in the EU in three key matters, should the UK leave with no deal:

  • Uprating of UK state pensions – referring to an annual increase in the amount of the pension by a minimum of either 2.5%, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is largest. Britons who move abroad outside the EU have their pensions frozen at the amount of money when they first claim them or when they move abroad, unless their country has a bilateral social security agreement with the UK, including on pension uprating. The UK previously had one with France but it was made obsolete by the UK being part of EU social security coordination rules which help EU citizens make use of their right to free movement around the EU.
  • Healthcare of British pensioners – referring to the question of who will pay for the future healthcare in countries like France of British pensioners who were previously paid for by the UK under the EU’s reciprocal S1 scheme
  • Exportable UK benefits – referring to payment of those UK benefits which may be claimed, or continue to be claimed, by Britons who have moved abroad in the EU, notably certain benefits helping disabled people such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which replaced the former Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Some people rely on these and factored them into their decisions to move abroad.

Sir Roger’s letter to the prime minister came after he raised the issue at the last Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons before Parliament was prorogued but failed to receive a satisfactory answer.

Under the negotiated withdrawal agreement (‘Brexit deal’) all of these areas of rights are protected for Britons abroad, however a no-deal scenario, as with many matters, would leave them to be dealt with by a combination of unilateral measures by the UK or France, or bilateral deals between the UK and France or UK and EU.

On state pensions, the UK recently said that it would uprate them for Britons living abroad in the EU for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, however continuation after this would depend on a bilateral deal with France. Connexion notes that France does not freeze pensions of its expatriates so there is no obvious reason why a deal would be difficult.

On healthcare, the UK is currently largely relying on the fact that France in its no-deal laws said that nothing would change for UK state pensioners for two years after a no-deal, during which time there should be negotiations with the UK about a bilateral healthcare agreement.

It is widely assumed that British pensioners, if all else failed, could join France’s Puma healthcare scheme on the basis of residency, and, apart from those with substantial incomes from private pensions, rents or investments, this would be likely to be at no cost to the pensioner under current French rules.

However the French government has so far not officially confirmed this. What is more if the pensioners become ‘attached’ to France in this way they may lose other benefits, such as being exempt from French social charges on their British pension incomes or the right to pay reduced social charges on their investment and property incomes.

We explain more on the latest Puma rules and cost of entry if applicable in our new Brexit guide available at this link.

On exportable benefits the UK says on this page these would continue to be paid out after a no-deal.

With regard to all these areas, especially pensions, the negotiated Brexit deal also takes account of those Britons living in countries like France who have an expectation of benefiting in the future, such as British people who are not yet of pension age but who will claim a British state pension while living in France in a future year.

At PMQs Sir Roger said: “Much has been made about provision for EU nationals resident in the UK post Brexit. Much less comfort has been offered to those 1.5 million UK nationals resident throughout the rest of the EU.

“Is the prime minister in a position to confirm, not on a piecemeal, but on a pan-European basis, that all pensions will be paid in full, that exportable benefits will continue to be paid in full, that healthcare will be covered in full, and that rights of domicile and freedom of movement will be protected?

“There are frightened people who need an answer.”

Mr Johnson replied: “I thank my right honourable friend and I can assure him that that matter is, of course, at the top of our concerns with all our EU friends and partners.

“We have made it absolutely clear that the very, very generous offer that this country has rightly made to the 3.4 million EU citizens here in this country must be reciprocated symmetrically and in full by our friends in the way that he has described.”

In his letter Sir Roger asked for more clarity.

He said: “The uprating of pensions is clearly within the gift of the UK government and should be confirmed immediately. The payment of exportable benefits is also within the gift of the UK government and should be confirmed immediately.”

He added: “I would… wish to see the correct provision made by the British government to maintain the healthcare scheme currently available through the European Union in order to ensure that no British nationals anywhere in Europe are left without medical cover.

“If this is not done then there will clearly be an exodus from European countries and a return of very many elderly people to the UK at a considerable cost to the state.”

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