‘Live more meagerly’: Falling pound hits Brits in France

Brits in France tell The Local how the falling pound has affected them, though not all for the worse.

'Live more meagerly': Falling pound hits Brits in France
Photo: AFP

As feared the impact of the Brexit referendum continues to have a major knock-on effect on the lives of British expats who call France home.

While no one really knows what the future will hold in terms of their rights in France, given that negotiations to determine the post Brexit Europe are far from even beginning, the lives of expats have nevertheless been impacted by the referendum in a real way.

And this is thanks to the drop in the value of the pound.

This drop began in the weeks leading up to Brexit, but has been more dramatic in the weeks since. It now stands at a value of €1.17.

Many analysts believe it will continue to fall further however.

George White is about to move down to his holiday home in Provence but the drop in the pound has hit him hard.

“Now we are paying more for the building work, for the mortgage, and our house in the UK is worth less,” White said.

“We were planning to move to an “equal valued” house down there which would in theory have been a nice big place with land and a swimming pool. Now we are in limbo.”

Richard Thorneycroft depends on British clients at his holiday painting courses in Provence, but with visits to France becoming more costly for British holidaymakers due to the fall of the pound, he fears he may be put out of business.

“I have been devastated by the result and the effect on the pound which inevitably engenders a great deal of reticence for my UK-based customers who are less willing to part with their sterling in France,” said Thorneycroft.

“If something isn't done now, I risk losing out and I worry for the future of my family.”

Not all British expats in France have been hit hard by the fall in the pound, especially those who are heading home.

David Thompson is leaving Normandy for the UK, largely for health reasons, but due to the referendum impact it also appears to be the right time to move back from a financial point of view.

“It makes sense to move back and sell the French property,” said Thompson. “Unfortunately we bought it at the peak of property prices and they have slumped since, so we aren't even getting back the amount we spent to buy it, so the more pounds sterling we can get from the sale the better.

“Since the Brexit vote we feel we made the right decision to move back, there is too much uncertainty regarding the status of expats, plus the drop in the sterling exchange rate would have hurt us very badly while living in France as we were dependent upon my wife's partial pension from the UK to live on.”

The problem of course with selling up in France right now is trying to find a buyer. For many the best chance of selling their property is to find another British buyer, who has the same dream they had – to live in tranquil rural France far from the hustle and bustle of city life.

But buyers from Britain will clearly be having second thoughts now that fall in the value of the pound has meant a rise in the price of property in France.

Pat Reid, who is looking to sell her house in France said a newly retired British couple who were potential buyers pulled out the day after the referendum.

Her potential buyers were worried by whether their pension would allow them to live abroad. The British government also has the option of freezing them, which would mean an even greater loss of income.

John Collyer who lives near the town of Eymet in the Dordogne said he and his wife had lost 15 percent of the value of their pensions since the pound started falling in the run up to the referendum.

“We’ve stopped bringing any money over from our savings in the UK due to the exchange rate. It’s time to just baton down the hatches and live a little bit more meagerly than we have been doing,” said Collyer.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.