When you decide to move abroad you hope to leave behind the many irritations of life but of course that is a false hope. As soon as you put down your roots again the bills recommence and you also have to tackle the many things that one has to do to ensure life continues on an even keel. Health, tax, household bills et cetera have to be sorted, compounded in our case by having to sort it all out in a foreign tongue and understanding different regimes.
These irritations are short lived as you settle into the rhythm of living abroad and establish yourself in the new life you have chosen. However, as you continue to live your life you realise that there are irritations that cannot be easily dealt with as an ex-pat. You suddenly become aware that you forego some rights when you move out of the UK if, (as we were), you are honest from the outset, about your intentions. These irritations are a result of UK policy and relate in particular to people such as us on a local authority pension. Whilst this article may not be of much interest to those still in the UK, (but their support would be terrific), I trust it will be of interest to other ex-pats who I hope may rally to the cause. Some of the information may be of use, particularly to anyone in France, but also in many other respects to others in Spain or elsewhere in the EU.
The first irritation is taxation. When you leave UK shores you cannot choose where the tax on your occupational pension is paid. It will be deducted at source in the UK before you receive it. This has implications that are not immediately obvious but I will come to that later.
The second irritation is that you will lose your right to vote in the UK after you have been abroad for fifteen years. Well, that is your problem, you might say. I might agree with you except for the fact we will continue to pay taxation in the UK until the end of our days. Therefore we will eventually have in effect, taxation without representation, ‘comme la Boston Tea Party’.
The third irritation is the nonsense that is loosely called ‘The Freedom of Movement’ within the EU. On the face of it there is a freedom of movement within EU Communities but that freedom does not carry with it all the rights of a UK citizen. You cannot, for instance, port any benefits when you move abroad unless, (in certain circumstances), you are already in receipt of those benefits and even then they may be stopped. One of the benefits that ex-pats may or may not get, (and this may not get much sympathy from some in the UK), is the Winter Fuel Allowance. It should be possible for all retired UK citizens in Europe under EU Regulations to receive all elderly persons' benefits, related to age, available to similar persons in the UK especially the Winter Fuel Payment, pension credits but it is not that simple.
One must be beware of the political overtones of the title ’Winter Fuel Payment’. It was instituted in 1997/8 by Gordon Brown to ‘help out the elderly with their winter fuel costs’. That is to say it is indeed a supplement to the payments to the elderly. Instead of raising the Old Age Pension, which is taxable, this payment, which is non-taxable, is given to ALL elderly persons, whether they are rich or poor, whether they live in the Scilly Isles or the Shetlands.
But also there are many not so well off pensioners living on the Continent who are refused it. They often are living in colder winters than the pensioners in Devon and Cornwall.
The Government declared at the outset that it was only payable to RESIDENTS in the UK. The European Court again decreed that this was illegal. But the Government has refused to grant it to anyone who left the UK before 1998, and of course if one left the UK before the age of 60 but attained the age of access to the OAP whilst resident on the continent, they also will never receive it. Thus someone who leaves the UK aged 59, (as we did), will not receive the WFP, whilst someone who leaves aged 60, will receive it. In fact of the 360,000 old age pensioners in continental Europe, only 43,000 are paid the WFP. ALL would receive it if they lived in the UK. Many are clearly not claiming it, although they are entitled to do so. It is an unfair system to those who have paid and still continue to pay taxation and other contributions to the UK.
There is no representation for ex-pats and not many are interested in this state of affairs, except of course the French when it comes to their own nationals in Britain. An article in The Telegraph on the 17th April 2009 tells us that France mulls over an 'MP for Britain' to represent French ex-pats in the French parliament, it said, ‘France has unveiled radical plans to create an "MP for Britain" who will sit in the French parliament. The new French overseas constituency of the UK would have its own députés to voice the interests of the estimated 400,000 French ex-pats living in Britain. Under the proposals, Britain would become one of 11 new French constituencies located in countries with large French immigrant populations.
Other countries to get their own French representatives to voice their interests in the French parliament would include Germany, Switzerland and the US. The scheme is the brainchild of French interior affairs minister Alain Marlaix, and has the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy and his centre-right UMP party. More than two million French living overseas can already vote in their national elections, but only for an MP with a seat in France. The new foreign constituencies would give French ex-pats more direct representation at home in France, Mr Marlaix said.
"This is the first time in any country in the world that something like this had been done," he said. "The new overseas MPs will have identical status to any other MP based in France.
"They will be elected in the same way and speak for the French expatriates they represent."
The UK on the other hand has little or no interest in its ex-pats and they in turn have few rights. If we travel to the UK we cannot access the NHS other than for emergency treatment provided we have our E.H.1.C issued in France before we travel. I have a feeling that an immigrant to the UK will have that entitlement the moment he/she arrives and state that they are a resident in the UK.
There are many other issues and some of the above I have taken from a website set up by a retired Head teacher from the UK called Brian Cave. Brian, who is now 77 years of age, has been fighting for better rights for EU ex-pats and has had quite a bit of coverage in the papers here in France as well as on other media such as French radio. You can find out more by clicking on this link http://pensionersdebout.blogspot.com/
Brian has petitioned the European Court of Human Rights and has had his petition acknowledged. There are three stages. The next stage would be information that the petition is an acceptable area for discussion. Then comes an open debate by the EU committee on the issue. Then comes the EU ruling and then the requests to the French and British Governments to correct their operations. It will be interesting to see what decisions are made but credit must go to Brian for his lone fight for his actions have been taken on his own account but if he is successful many could benefit from his hard work. He can be contacted via his website and would welcome any support. He has his UK MP, Mark Harper, on his side but the ridiculous thing is that because Brian has lived in France for eleven years he will lose that link in four years time, (at 81 years of age!). Brian also tells me of another MP, he says, “Roger Gale (MP for Thanet North) who is superb fighter. He has a house in the Dordogne not far from my residence. He has a good grasp of the situation. I always write to these two together out of politeness to Mark Harper my official representative.” He concludes by saying, “NO LABOUR MP shows the slightest inclination to support me. Some are more than downright rude.” Brian’s campaign slogan is, ’IF ONE DOES NOTHING _ NOTHING GETS DONE!’ and that cannot be disputed.
I said earlier that I would mention the implications of having your Local Authority pension taxed in the UK. As described if you are already in receipt of your pension before you move abroad it will be taxed at source and this cannot be changed. It by law, [Double Taxation Treaty], will ALWAYS be taxed at source in the UK at whatever time you receive it. The law is that it is received FOR SERVICE TO THE GOVERNMENT OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT. Note that although it comes via the public purse it is not because of that circumstance. NHS personnel receive their pensions via the public purse but their pensions are exportable for tax! Their service is considered to be to a National Health Trust, (apparently), and NOT to any government, ridiculous. I do not profess to be an expert in this and I would counsel anyone to seek professional advice before committing themselves but in relation to France Brian emailed me the following which is part of an email relating to taxation, and in particular relating to the old age pension, that I would be willing to share with others who are affected..
‘A very major gripe of mine is that because one is taxed in the UK one cannot obtain any tax relief on that tax via the French authorities. Especially home helps and even gardener help. These attract a relief of 50% of the outlay. When times were good I took out a continuing donation to support the education of a small boy in Cambodia (I know his name and receive the class reports and he writes to me). Under French taxation rules I could get 75% tax relief. I get nothing. For this reason my taxation is about 1,000 euros a year more than if I were a French National with exactly the same sources of income. [That statement is exactly true in all respects.]’…..
I contacted Brian, as our position will change next year when I hit 65 and become eligible for the UK Old Age Pension. This has implications that I will not discuss here but if anyone is in a similar position and requires more information I am happy for the Editor of O&B to pass any emails on to me and I will send on anything I know that may assist. There are peculiarities in France in relation to occupational pensions that do not exist in Spain as the Spanish Authorities, (for once), have implemented the correct procedure but France has not done so, (according to UK authorities who may, of course, be passing the buck).
Brian is doing a good job in fighting the corner for ex-pats although there are some areas I cannot see him winning such as stabilising the pound against the Euro, although he seems to make some good points in this regard also.
This is a complex issue but I ask you to take time to have a look at Brian’s website and drop him a line, or even better, drop a line to your MP and others he mentions on his site. If you don’t know who your MP is log on to this website http://www.writetothem.com/ type in your postcode and it will tell you who he or she is.
I will be contacting N.A.RP.O, which is an excellent pressure group for pensioners, but do not seem to have any links to overseas-retired officers. I would like to know why. When I moved abroad I came out of the organisation, as I could not see it being of any assistance to me living abroad. I may have been hasty in that respect as I may be unaware of support in the organisation that may assist retired officers overseas in such areas as incorrectly implemented government policy.
One final point, if you think that it will all go away and you need not concern yourself about these things as an ex-pat, can I draw your attention to an article I saw in The Independent of the 20th September 2008.
This proposes a tax on all currency transfers, which will be yet another tax on hard pressed ex-pats. Let's hope for a cut off for any proposed tax so that any money transferred for living expenses would be exempt. However, anyone transferring a large amount for a house purchase for instance, would have little hope of any exemption if this were brought in. Not holding my breath though .... : - (
I started off by saying that life’s irritations follow you about and of course that is true wherever you live. I have to say though that those irritations are more manageable here in France than they were in the UK in spite of the language difficulties. The British character possesses a strong sense of fair play and injustice is not something easily tolerated. UK ex-pats should not be abandoned and it is a disgrace that the UK do not treat its nationals correctly. It is not a French problem it is a UK one and it should be addressed forthwith.