Brexit stories: 'Our income has dropped so much we may be forced to leave France to survive'

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Brexit stories: 'Our income has dropped so much we may be forced to leave France to survive'
Many pensioners in France have seen a big drop in their incomes. Photo: AFP

Two British pensioners who followed their dream to move to France to be near their daughter have told how the fall of the pound since the referendum has left them hard up and now they cannot afford to stay.


Retired British Telecom engineer Barry Carleton, 79, and his wife Patricia, 77, face having to leave their house in Charente-Maritme and their daughter, who lives in France, and return to the UK where they have no property and few family connections.

The couple live off their pensions and have seen their income fall by one third since they moved to France in 2005, as the exchange rate has plummeted since the Brexit referendum.


To make matters worse for them, they lived in the Isle of Man for 20 years, which has a slightly different system to the UK and will only pay pensions into a British bank, meaning Barry and Patricia must use an international money exchange to transfer their money to France, further eating away at their precious monthly pension payments.

Barry told The Local  "We had no intention of returning to the British isles for any reason, but our income has dropped so much we are thinking we may be forced to leave France to survive."

The pair first fell in love with France when they visited on holiday in 1967 but didn't manage to make the move until 2005, after they had retired.

Barry said: "We both fell in love with the place and I would have loved to move out sooner and work for France Telecom but I found the language too hard. I never got GCEs at school, I did all my training on the job with British Telecom, and I found learning French very hard."

But in 2004 their daughter moved to France and while they were in the process of helping her to move they asked around and found a place to rent in the Charente-Maritime département in south west France.

They decided to stay and managed to get a mortgage from a French bank to buy a dilapidated house for €13,800, which they have gradually renovated over the last 14 years.

But after the Brexit vote the pound began a slow steady slide against the euro, and the couple found that their pension was just not enough to live on any more.

Barry said: "When we first moved over the exchange rate was €1.4 to the pound, now it's about even and we've lost about a third of our monthly income.

"During the time of the Brexit vote we were on holiday in our camping-car, a 1984 Ford transit base. Our finances took a dive and we just managed to return home with an empty fuel tank.

"We have not been able to afford a holiday since, that camping-car has been laid up at our daughter's house since then."

Despite cutting their living expenses to the bone and getting help from the British Charitable Fund (which helps British people living in poverty in France) with their heating bills, they are still struggling.

"We used to have a wood burner to heat the house, but I've had some health problems and am not able to chop and carry wood any more, so we got an oil central heating system but the price of oil is just going up and up and we can't pay the bills," said Barry.

"We don't have holidays or meals out, our only treat is a McDonald's when we do the shopping every fortnight."

Their daughter is married to a French man and will stay in France and the only family they have in the UK is Patricia's brother, who lives near Nottingham.

Barry said: "But he's said he wouldn't recommend moving to Nottingham. We don't want to go back to the British isles at all, our life is here but it's difficult.

"We are still paying €500 a month for the mortgage on the house as that won't be paid off until 2023. If we can just manage to hold on until then things will get better, but we can't manage to pay our bills at the moment so I don't know what we're going to do."

The Carletons are far from the only British pensioners in France facing an uphill struggle financially.

There is a large community of people who France who depend on income from the UK, whether it is pensions, income from rental properties or work in the UK and they have all taken a big hit since the exchange rate began to fall.

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 many people told The Local that they were having to make big changes to their lifestyle, cutting back on all on-essentials and facing constant financial worry.

There is also the added pressure of minimum income requirements for some types of carte de séjour, meaning many people are putting off applying for residency out of fear that they might fall below the income threshold.

French estate agent Alexandre Demarche, who is based in Normandy, said it was difficult to tell if the overall number of Britons in France had dropped, and indeed some people have been pushed by Brexit into buying now before the exit date.

But he added: "The devaluation of the pound, their currency, is the main reason they put forward when they do sell up.

"In other words, they no longer have the means. Everything costs them much more in France," he told France Info.

Have you been affected by the fall in the value of the pound? Tell us your experiences here.




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[email protected] 2019/09/16 23:37
Or Transferwise - today £4 / £1000 @ 1.129. Dont use the banks !
[email protected] 2019/09/16 14:42
Orbit Remit - about £7 per thousand to transfer money to a French Bank Account from the UK. Moral - DON'T use the banks!

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