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MENTAL HEALTH

‘I am not alone’ – How Brexit’s Facebook groups can be life-saving therapy for anxious Britons

The dozens of Facebook groups where Brits in Europe, as well as EU nationals in the UK, meet and discuss Brexit have become counseling hubs for citizens increasingly suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and depression because of uncertainty linked to Brexit.

They are forums for exchanging views, dissecting Brexit and sharing useful information for expat citizens.

But they are also key counseling hubs in the absence of more formal structures to tackle the impact Brexit is having on the mental health of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.

With just over sixty days to go to Brexit, many Facebook groups that bring together expat nationals – Remain in France Together, Brexpats Hear Our Voice, Bremain in Spain or In Limbo – are filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

“Around the Christmas holidays a lot of people were posting about panic attacks, depression and anxiety,” Elena Remigi told The Local.

Remigi manages the online group In Limbo: Our Brexit Testimonies, which she founded in March 2017 as a “safe place” for EU citizens facing the UK's post-Brexit “hostile environment.” She has also published a book featuring those accounts.

“People are really afraid of being the next Windrush generation,” says Remigi. “Brexit is affecting their mental health,” she adds, emphasizing that the most vulnerable among the EU nationals in the UK often suffer the most: the disabled, those on benefits, or the hard to reach. 

Remigi's In Limbo book documents 150 testimonies of EU nationals living in the UK.

The sequel, In Limbo Too, – written in partnership with Debra Williams from citizens' rights group Brexpats Hear Our Voice – turned its focus to British nationals in Europe, with an equal number of testimonies.

Both books focused on vulnerable demographics: the elderly, the disabled, those with limited documents or for whom Brexit is off the radar and therefore harder to adapt to.

Remigi says it has happened on several occasions that participants in the 'In Limbo' Facebook group have made suicidal posts, citing Brexit as a cause.

In such cases Remigi and her colleagues advise the concerned to call the Samaritans suicide prevention hotline, to seek help from their doctor or to reach out to conventional counseling services. 

“When we see people distressed we have a duty to refer them to counseling,” Remigi told The Local.

Brexit is going to change the lives of many of the UK's approximately 3.6 million EU citizens, as well as the lives of the 1.2 million or so British citizens living in the EU. 

Besides concerns about how their future work and residency status could change, each of the so-called '5 million' (the estimated sum of British nationals in the EU and EU nationals in the UK) has their own Brexit fears.

These include the issues of pensions, the rights of their children, access to medicine and healthcare, the right to work and access education, meeting new income assessment criteria for residency, proving retrospective documentation and much more.

Hostile environment

The Emotional Support Service for Europeans (ESSE) at London's Existential Academy treats EU nationals for depression and problems linked to Brexit. Volunteer therapists at ESSE, a project started in 2017, have treated more than 60 EU nationals in the UK since it opened. 

In many cases, a patient is an EU citizen with a British spouse. “The EU spouse may feel that they suddenly don't belong and feel tensions if there are children involved,” Jo Molle, a volunteer therapist at ESSE, told The Local.

Molle says she has also “worked with people who have experienced a lot of discrimination.” The British therapist of Italian origin cites a case of an EU national who felt she had to leave her rural home for a British city because she no longer felt welcome in the village after the Brexit vote. 

The ESSE project at the Existential Academy is really a drop in the ocean in tackling Brexit-related mental health issues – there are only so many patients the centre can work with.

“The waiting list is very long,” Molle told The Local, adding that with increasing demand for therapy from EU nationals outside London, sessions are often conducted over the phone. 

Molle says online groups are also a key therapy tool in the Brexit landscape, especially for people who are cut off from traditional therapy forums.

“People who are isolated and have no way of getting the support they need find them really useful,” says Molle.

Brexpats Hear Our Voice is one such group for Brits in the EU.

“Our group, like many other similar ones, is a closed group. Therefore, members consider it a safe space where they can share their worries and give each support,” Clarissa Killwick, an admin moderator with advocacy, research and support group Brexpats Hear Our Voice, told The Local. 

“Outside that comfortable space I have seen disbelief, and worse, that Brexit can actually affect someone's mental health. The fact that it seems impossible for those not directly affected to understand, means that groups are a real lifeline to those feeling very isolated,” adds Killwick, a British teacher based in northern Italy. 

“I feel less alone”

Many group members confirmed to The Local that the support they find has helped them navigate a difficult stage in their lives.

“The like-minded group has helped me enormously, beyond mere words. It has enabled me to process the stages of grief that I feel as a marginalized Brit in Europe, to know that whatever emotion I am feeling or experiencing, that I am not alone,” Fiona Scott-Wilson, a Brit based in Italy and a member of the Brexpats Hear Our Voice group, told The Local. 

“I feel less alone being part of this group, knowing we are all going through tough times of uncertainty,” adds Kerrana McAvoy Clément, a Brit based in Brussels. 

The Facebook groups exist as campaigning tools for British in Europe, but they also serve as digital safe havens for Brits uncertain about their futures and the ground beneath them.

“The whole Brexit process has been incredibly abusive and traumatic,” Denise Abel, formerly a psychotherapist for 30 years in the east of London, told The Local from her home in central Italy.

Referring to the time that has passed since the Brexit referendum result, she added: “Keeping people in limbo for over 900 days is abuse”. 

READ ALSO: How Brexit is fuelling stress and anxiety for vulnerable Brits in Europe

 

 

 

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Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Over the summer people living in France have received their tax bills, and some Brits who are residents here will have noticed that their bill is larger than usual - here's why.

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Brits who live in France and make a tax declaration here, but have income from the UK, may have noticed that their tax bill has increased this year – here’s why and whether you can challenge the increase. 

Brexit

Yes, this is Brexit related and it refers to social charges on non-French income. The standard rate for these charges are 7.5 percent for income from an EU country and 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country.

The tax bills received over the summer relate to the annual French tax declaration filed in April 2022, covering the 2021 tax year. In other words, the first year after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Social charges

Social charges are levies with a social purpose introduced in France in the 1990s to finance the country’s complex social security system.

If you have a French payslip you will already be familiar with them, and they actually make up the bulk of deductions from salaries, significantly more than income tax.

READ ALSO How to understand your French payslip

One of the big questions is whether France’s social charges are actually a ‘tax’ – the government repeatedly insists they’re not, for all that they look like a tax and are paid like a tax. 

The position on French social charges has changed several times in recent years, sometimes in response to court action all centred on whether this money that government deducts from your income can be called a ‘tax’ or not.

Katey Murray, at The Spectrum IFA Group, explained: “Article 29 of the amended Finance law of 2012 extended social charges to rental income from French properties and capital gains on properties for people who are not French tax resident.

“In 2015, a Dutch national challenged the fact that he was paying social charges in France and social security contributions in the Netherlands. The case went before the ECJ, which ruled these levies were similar to social security contributions and therefore contrary to European law.”

France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, confirmed the ECJ’s ruling. “French tax offices then, if a claim was made to them, reimbursed undue social charges,” Murray said.

“However, the French Government stated that these claims could only be made by someone covered for their healthcare by the system of another European country (EU, EEA or Switzerland) and not someone covered by a non-European health system. 

“This was confirmed by the ECJ for a French national living in China in a case in January 2018.”

Foreigners in France

And it’s this ‘healthcare system’ distinction that has become the key detail for Brits in France, clarified by a court ruling from March 2022 on the details of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. 

Social charges are currently set at 7.5 percent for income from an EU country, or 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country. So income from the UK jumped to the higher rate at the end of the Brexit transition period.

However the ECJ ruling on healthcare cover is the key bit – essentially if you are already contributing to another European country’s social security system, you benefit from the lower rate.

This mainly affects two groups – Brits living in the UK (and therefore covered by the NHS) who have income in France, and Brits who are living in France and who have an S1, which states that their healthcare costs are covered by the NHS.

S1 holders are mainly British pensioners living in France, but the scheme can also apply to other groups including students and posted workers. 

Brits who are living in France and are covered by the French health system pay the higher rate on income from the UK. 

Technically the 7.5 percent rate is a ‘social levy’ rather than the prélèvements sociaux.

The ‘social levy’ is not charged on pensions, so if you are an S1 holder who receives a British pension, you will not have to pay any social charges at all, while certain types of property income may also be exempt from social charges.

Tax

As we stated above, social charges are not a tax (although they are deducted from your income by the tax office).

Taxes on income from the UK is covered by the bilateral dual-taxation treaty between France and the UK, which states that you don’t have to pay tax in France on income that you have already paid tax on in the UK. 

So the first thing to check on your tax bill is whether deductions relate to impôt (tax) or prélèvements sociaux (social charges).

Challenge your tax bill

So what to do if you think you have been incorrectly charged on income from the UK?

If you are an S1 holder, it’s a case of telling the tax office that you benefit from the lower 7.5 percent social levy, rather than the 17.2 percent social charge.

Murray said: “You can state that you are not subject to social charges by ticking boxes 8SH/8SI on your tax form (2042 form) or, if you have been charged at the higher rate, you can claim them back on your personal page on the impots.gouv.fr website.”

If the over-charge relates to a different issue – for example you have been charged both tax and the social charge or charged on exempt income – your first step is talking to the tax office, either in person or over the phone.

READ ALSO How to challenge your French tax bill

This article is a general overview of the tax rules and is not intended as a substitute for financial advice, if your financial affairs are complicated you are always better off getting professional help from an accountant who specialises in international taxation.

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