Thursday, March 29, 2012

How do the British Pensioners live in France?

UPDATE -  The posting 'Shopping in France' is a useful accompaniment to this post.  It compares a shopping list in the UK and France from time to time, and  gives figures for inflation and the effect of the exchange rates.  ***View it here***.   Last update June 2015

In 2012 I met a British pensioner of long acquaintance in our local supermarket at Gourdon, my home town in the Department of the Lot, France.  I had not met him for some years and at first did not recognise him.  He looked much older than I remembered and appeared distressed.   ‘We’re selling up’ said  Jerry ‘if we can find a buyer for our house’.  I knew he and his wife Anthea had been resident in France for at least 15 years and before that had owned a second home here during the time he was teaching in Britain. 
‘Why do you want to go back?’ I enquired.  ‘Its just too expensive here’, he said.  ‘We can’t manage any more’.
It is indeed expensive.  The food costs are more here than in the UK.   I keep a price comparison list.   You can easily view the prices in Tesco online and similarly discover the general price of petrol in the UK.
In March 2012 I began such a comparison –See the link above. The basket of goods cost the equivalent of 92.07 euros in Tescos, and the same list was 104.23 euros here in Gourdon. That is to say 13% more expensive compared to Britain.  Even four star petrol was fractionally higher in price in March than in Britain.  Fifteen years ago everything was so much cheaper in France. The repeated exercise in March 2013 was far worse.  The £ dropped in value by 10% since December 2012 and French inflation soared to 12% (on my figures). The same basket of goods cost 108 euros, which was 17% higher than in the UK. [ n.b. June 2015. The situation has improved since 2014 - but is still not equitable with UK prices.]

The difference in price is enough that many Britons living in France buy various large items, clothes and the like  via the internet from England,  Nowadays, Marks and Spencer’s, John Lewis,  and even much smaller stores will send goods to France and even with the delivery costs it is still cheaper to buy this way.(* see comment 5 below)
From personal knowledge I know that small pieces of machinery such as parts for a chain saw  can be purchased more cheaply from Britain than in the local shops.  Electric fencing and garden ‘seep’ hoses can be so purchased similarly from Britain at a cheaper price than locally. Clothes, china and so on are all frequently available more cheaply from the UK.
Why is this?  The exchange rate has much to do with it.  We hear so often through the British radio and television that the Euro is in dire trouble.  My inkling is that we should pay more attention to the markets than to the economic soothsayers of the press and the somewhat biased pronouncements from any Government voice.   The undoubted fact is that the Euro has stayed strong against the pound although since 2014 the rate has improved  The £ stood in 2012 any where between 0.87 (April 2012!) (as in the price comparison linked above) to about 0.83 pence to the euro.  In 2015 it has been about 0.73.  It would be more equable in buying power today at about 0.67 - 0.70 pence.  The more the UK Government go on ‘printing’ money the more it will stay weak and even get worse.  [update note- on May 26th 2012 - From April, to July the £  climbed dramatically .  From July to December it fell back again.  Can we be sure of anything in this world?]
My acquaintance and his wife were teachers.   Because of the extraordinary law on taxation this means that they are taxed on their pensions by the United Kingdom.  The law is most decidedly an ‘ass’.  My enquiries to the HMRC as to why this should be so, get the answer ‘Because the pension comes from public funds.’  This is an absolute bananas of a reply.  The Old Age State pension quite transparently comes from public funds, yet that is not, for the British pensioner living in France – I repeat is not - taxed in the UK but is exportable for taxation to France! 
The utter stupidity of the laws on taxation of pensions is repeated elsewhere in Europe.  Would you not agree that the pensions of nurses comes via the public purse?  Yet those nurses who retire to France and Spain can have it taxed in France or Spain.  Those who retire to Germany must by law have it taxed in the U.K. 
The consequence for my acquaintance is that they pay far more income tax to the UK than they would if they were taxed in France.  Moreover as they are clearly of advanced years and I know that Anthea suffers severely from arthritis, they need the aid of a ‘home-help’.   In France the costs of this employment are 50% deductible against tax.  Since their income tax is collected by the UK, this relief is not possible for them.   To add extra absurdity the French take the teachers pensions into consideration when viewing their liability to taxation on their State Pension and their local property taxes.
So, through the complexity of archaic laws which derive from the United Kingdom they get a double whammy of an artificially distorted exchange rate and the hard luck of being suspended between two different sets of laws on taxation.
Because they have been non-resident in the UK since before 1998 they had not received the Winter Fuel Payment {see note at end].
Then again, our two aged people have to subscribe to their health care in France.  This will cost them more than 1500 euros a year and possibly 2,000 (about £1650).  I am convinced that this is because of a misinterpretation of European law.   The EU regulations on health say that the British pensioners should receive health care in France as any French person should receive it and that the cost should be borne by the U.K. Now the exact wording of the law on costs says and I quote……  
For the purposes of applying Article 35 and Article 41 of the basic Regulation, the actual amount of the expenses for benefits in kind, as shown in the accounts of the institution that provided them, shall be reimbursed to that institution by the competent institution.”  [EU Regulation 987-2004, Article 62]
The competent institution is the U.K. Department of Health.  The U.K. is responsible under EU law for the Social Security costs of all British Pensioners living in the EU who have never paid into any social security of their host country but only into the British system.   It is beyond belief that the precise wording of this regulation can be so ignored. (*The EU Regs need examination by a trained legal mind, especially 987-2004 Article 24 - residence in a State )
Here is part of an email, written on the 10th February, from another acquaintance. Just as I was yesterday, I am typing Emails sitting up in bed. I am  fully clothed in three jumpers, two pairs of trousers and a track suit. 
My dear husband, similarly dressed, is tucked up beside me.  He is eighty-six, and suffers from epilepsy and  a certain amount of mental confusion.
Outside the temperature is minus 2 degrees, and is expected to fall to minus 10 degrees tonight - a big improvement on the  minus 14 degrees we had last night
And another (let’s call her Ethel) who wrote to me about the non-receipt of the Winter Fuel Payment.  I know that their health insurance costs them over 2,000 euros a year.
As you can imagine, this past year has been extremely hard on both of us and it is only with the support of the excellent French health professionals as well as the kindness of our friends and neighbours (both French and British) that we have managed to cope.   We live on a joint pension income of 12,000 pounds sterling per annum and have to draw on our very modest savings to supplement this.   Because of our low income, we downsized seven years ago to a tiny, one-bedroomed house which my husband converted from a carpenter's workshop but his illness and treatment cause him to feel the cold in the extreme and, in spite of the size of our house, I dread to think what our heating bill will be this Winter.  It is so dreadfully unfair that we and others in our situation are not allowed to receive the Winter Fuel Payment [see note at end] from the British government when our compatriots do!  And, of course, there is nothing we can do about it as, having lived in France for more than fifteen years, we are now disenfranchised as well!”
This letter from Ethel, just about sums up the predicament.  The EU is supposed to allow free movement of people, with neither loss of privileges nor obstructions placed in one’s path.   Yet the British Governments since 1973 have not considered in any manner at all how the diaspora of British folk are faring in the wider Europe.  Most of the pensioners are ordinary folk, some rich, some poor, but mostly in the middle income brackets.  Most moved to the continent because housing was cheaper and they felt sure that the pound would stay strong.. But the fact is that they are treated as non-existent citizens by their own country.   The UK Governments still tax many of them. The Government ignores it responsibility towards their health care. The Governments have disallowed  the Winter Fuel Payment [see note at end] to the most elderly.  And to cap it all the Governments have not allowed them to be appropriately represented in Parliament [see note at end].  
And now some are forced because of financial difficulties to attempt to return to the UK where no doubt they will add to the population pressure on the health service and the local social security departments.
 [The Winter Fuel Payment - AUGUST 2012 -- Because of pressure from the EU helped along by certain knowledgeable expatriates - the Government DWP has caved in and accepts that the WFP is payable to all those in the EU/EEA who would receive it if their residence were otherwise in the UK.]
[Further note  on the WFP - January 2014- The Government has decided that France is a HOT country and on that basis will not pay the WFP to those of us living in France - But Italy is defined as 'not hot' -
View a relevant link here!] 
[The disenfranchisement is being strongly fought -- 
visit and comment ]


  1. An 83 year old, retired for 20 years in St Cyprien, PO, with wife, Equitable loser, EMAG member. As David Cameron proclaims he will reduce the excessive numbers of MP's, why not put all our pressure on the UK copying the new French Expat representation system, replacing 11 of our existing MP's by 11 to cover Worldwide British Expats? Graham & Valerie Neal.Email:

  2. I am not fully up on the french system but as an expat spanish resident I see the taxation of state pensions at source as an advantage. My wife was a teacher - her teachers pension is taxed after a generous tax free element for an over 65. Her old age pension and other income is taxed in Spain after another personal allowance - net she is better off by about €2000 a year.
    I agree rules on things like winter fuel allowance are daft - we don't get it but our neighbours do - simply because we vam here before we were 60!!

  3. Reply to anonymous- Spain is different from France in this.
    1. In Spain you are not required to declare your teachers pension taxed in the UK to the Spanish authorities. In France you are so required. In Spain therefore your apparent income appears less than it actually is.
    2. Rebates on the tax due which all French people can obtain by employing 'home-helps' are not available to the person who pays tax to the UK.
    3. Personally I have paid about £900/year more in tax to the UK than if my teacher's pension were solely taxed in France.
    There is not a level playing field across Europe for the British expatriate for has to pay tax to the UK.

  4. Thanks Debout for your comments. You do, in fact, have to report the existence of the pension and complete a double taxation document in both english and spanish - both tax authorities are then aware of your situation. But, yes, the Spanish taxman is not interested in how much!
    At 9490gbp tax free in the UK this means that my wife does well whereas I would be better off taxed in the UK...
    cross border tax is a 'buggers muddle' - good luck in your campaign.

  5. It is very unlikely that either the UK or the French governments will have the will to assist British expates, or even try to correct the many inconsistencies that exist.
    I'm afraid we are left, out in the sun, to fend for ourselves and that requires that we become resourceful. We now make many of our purchases in the UK using online sites such as Amazon or Ebay - and even take shopping trips into cheaper Spain.

    For those that are interested my wife has found an excellent online clothing shop at :

    Every saving helps and its amazing what you can find or invent when you need to.

  6. Response to 'harpe le blues'.
    The Britons Abroad are indeed 'left out in the sun'.
    We should have Representation in Parliament as the French expatriate has in the National Assembly. Look at the items on this blog on this issue. Also make your feelings known through.

  7. please can anyone help my husband and i want to sell our house and move to France.Heis 65 and disabled he gets D L A at high rate plus pension i get carers allowance plus a income support top up,i am 56 we have no savings whatsoever.does anybody know if we would be making the right decision bearing in mind my husband has to have regular medication yours hopeful Lyn

  8. This blog is not a forum - I suggest that you post such a request on Survive France Network.
    However, you can still receive both DLA and CA paid from the UK in France. Your husband and yourself would probably get 100% support for medication if you have little income. If your income is above a threshold he would get 100% medical support only for a condition of listed 'long duration' - e.g cancer, heart disease etc. You yourself are not of retirement age which affects medical cover support from the UK. The matter is complicated. Send an email for more information.

  9. I have just written to my Oxford MP Nicola Blackwood, in order to protest at the discriminatory stance of the Conservatives against UK expatriates living in other EU countries. All expats should get themselves on the Overseas Register for the 15 years in which they are currently entitle to vote, in order to reflect their displeasure with this government's policies in the only way that counts i.e. the vote. My email letter is as follows:
    Nicola Blackwood MP

    Dear Ms Blackwood,

    We have corresponded before. I remain one of your constituents in Oxford, as I am entitled to remain on the UK Electoral register for 15 years, even though we live in France. So I continue to have a constituency voice and will use it by voting (I have a proxy for this purpose).

    Last time I wrote to you I complained that expatriates should potentially lose the vote after 15 years. You sent to me a reply written by the Minister for the Cabinet office, whose answer was that after this period someone was assumed to have no further connection with the UK, and should become a national of the other country if they wanted to vote. This is patently nonsense: I lived and worked in the UK for 35 years, I continue to draw all my pension and property income from the UK, so am fundamentally affected by UK political and economic fortunes. Besides which I remain culturally a UK citizen, and have no intention of ever changing my nationality, even if this means that I lose the right to vote.
    I think it would be more helpful if the Conservative Party adopted a stance which was more favourable to UK expatriates. A vast majority (like myself) are instinctively conservative, have the vote but are not likely to vote for a Conservative candidate while you continue to adopt and pursue policies so overtly discriminatory as regards UK expatriates. After a lifetime of work in the UK we are entitled to exercise our "freedom of movement" within the EU by living in another EU country, and should not be penalised by your Party in power.
    I quote another example of your hostile positioning: Iain Duncan Smith is quoted today referring to a "ridiculous" ruling by the European Court of Justice under which winter fuel payments continue to be made to people living across Europe. He appears to be proud that he is now changing regulation in order no longer to make such payments to people in EEA countries "with an average winter temperature higher than the warmest part of the UK". This is patently a "dishonest" point of view. People in France are to be excluded, including myself (despite the fact that I paid my dues for 35 years in the UK), simply because France (for its own political reasons) includes tropical Departments outside Metropolitan France (treated as mainland France) such as Reunion, Martinique, Guadelope, and Guyana (and this boosts "average" temperatures)! But, generally, this is not where the UK expatriate community lives in France, and we experience temperatures comparable to and, indeed, colder than the UK.
    The Conservatives appear to have lost support in the North of England, but they have potentially 600,000 British expatriates in France to whom they could choose to continue to appeal, if they simply ceased this blatant discrimination. At the moment, I regret you will have lost my vote in the next general election.
    Yours sincerely.

    Peter Elliott