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BREXIT

Breaking point: British pensioners in France open up about money worries

Dipping into savings, a lack of social life, constantly worrying about money – British pensioners in France have opened up on the impact of the falling value of the pound on their lives.

Breaking point: British pensioners in France open up about money worries
Many British pensioners in France have having to make big lifestyle changes. Photo: Susan Sermoneta/flickr

When the British pound fell to a two-year low last week, most headlines focused on tourists getting less holiday spending money, but for retirees in France the situation is far more serious than having to cut back on the ice creams on their annual break.

There is a large community of people in France who are reliant on some way in money from the UK. Some people work remotely for British companies, others get income from house rentals or dividends from businesses or shares, but the largest group are pensioners.

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Currency fluctuations of the pound have a massive impact on the lives of British pensioners in France. Photo: AFP

Many are not on high incomes anyway, so a drop in the exchange rate can take a significant chunk out of their monthly income.

On July 31st, the pound hit a two-year low, trading at €1.09.

That means that anyone who is on a fixed monthly income of £1,200 from the UK is getting €1,308 per month, compared to €1,548 at the start of June 2016 (before the Brexit referendum). Back in 1999, the same amount would have got you €1,800.

And readers of The Local have been telling us how this has affected them.

Paul Trevor Bale, who lives in Aude in South West France, says he estimates his income has gone down around €150 a month.

He said: “I can’t make all the trips I want to, haven't been able to redecorate the house or buy rugs and furniture I need, or get help in my massive garden since a knee injury.

“I'm looking at all outgoings and cutting down on expenses as far as possible. I shop more carefully.”

Cheryl Bingham, who lives in Normandy on a combined state and private pension, said: “Our pension has decreased steadily from the referendum and we just have to tighten our belts all the time.”

Pat Hands said: “We do not go out for day trips like we used to or away at weekends. We remain in our village where we can walk when going out on errands, and use the car only when essential, for example appointments that are outside our own village.

“We have some savings but avoid at all costs dipping into them for everyday items. They are for emergencies only or if we had to go into a nursing home etc.”

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Wendy Collier-Parker said: “We both have private and state pensions. It means that we are having to budget very carefully in order to pay our top-up medical insurance and mortgage and land and habitation taxes.

“We are watchful while shopping for the best deals. Think before planning a holiday until things are clearer, instead of going to a restaurant with friends have them in our house and have everyone bring something to share.”

For some it has meant putting off dreams of retirement.

Bryan Woy, who lives in Normandy, said: “Taking into account that over half of my retirement pension comes from the UK, I would say that my overall income has gone down by about 10 percent since the referendum.

“I am lucky enough to be able to continue to earn money in France, teaching and translating (until I become too old and tired). I probably work more than I would have done if the referendum result had gone the other way.”

And Ivan Robinson, who has emigrated to Oregon in the USA, pointed out that the pound has also fallen steadily against the dollar.

He said: “This is not only a problem in Europe, I am a permanent resident in USA and the loss from the pound to dollar is causing a definite hardship, the present drop in the pound equates for me two to three weeks grocery bills, resulting in a major drop in lifestyle.”

Meanwhile over the border in Spain, several British pensioners spoke of “becoming a recluse” since having to cut back on trips out and socializing.

And of course there was also some classic British humour deployed in a difficult situation. One respondent – we think jokingly – suggested taking up prostitution while Ivan Robinson added: “I have researched British war time recipes for cooking at home – amazing the different ways one can cook meals with Spam.”

Member comments

  1. Perhaps these people are living beyond their means and should seriously consider going back to the UK. Didn’t they make a worse case scenario before they came?

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BRITS IN EUROPE

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.

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