The many Brexit hurdles still facing worried Brits in Dordogne

With just weeks to go until Britain is set to leave the EU, scores of worried British residents packed into a meeting in Dordogne to air their worries to UK embassy officials. The Local joined them to hear their concerns.

The many Brexit hurdles still facing worried Brits in Dordogne
Photo: AFP
They came in their dozens, mostly elderly but all extremely worried about what will happen at the end of the month when the UK is set to leave the EU.
Will they be able to stay in the place they have called home for decades? Will they be able to access medical treatment if they fall sick? Will the children they raised in France, who consider themselves French, be able to live with them?
In the latest of a series of outreach meetings set up by the British Embassy in the runup to the (current) Brexit deadline, The Local travelled to Dordogne to meet some of the worried British residents of France.
Over the course of two meetings around 150 people turned up to quiz Embassy staff and a representative from the local préfecture about the big questions; residency, healthcare, driving and – these are Brits after all – their pets.
Of the 150 or so people who came the majority were elderly, many anxiously clutching the letter that the NHS has recently sent to all UK nationals living in Europe,  informing them that their healthcare will only be covered for six months in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
Most had lived in France a long time – most well over five years many for more than 20 – but only a handful had a carte de séjour residency card. Again and again people told of being unable to make an appointment with their local préfecture, or checking the website daily for months on end to see if appointment slots had become available.
The meeting also heard heartbreaking stories from people undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious medical conditions who are now worried about whether their healthcare costs will be met after Brexit and even whether they will be entitled to ongoing medical treatment.
Some of the major points of the meeting were:
1. ResidencyThe new French government site is now up and running and those who had used it reported that it was relatively simple and easy to use. Everyone currently living in France will now need to go on the website within six months of the date that the UK leaves the EU, in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
People who already have a 10 year carte de séjour permanent can simply swap it for the a post Brexit residency card – and can do this via the website. Everyone else can use website and make a fresh residency application. For anyone without internet access, préfectures will accept applications, The Local understands.
Although the site is now live and accepting applications, the local préfectures will not start processing them until the day after the UK leaves the EU.
You can learn more about the website and where to find it here.
2. Healthcare – People who are already in the French healthcare system and have a carte vitale don't need to do anything, their right to healthcare continues as before (in France) – people who are under the S1 scheme for pensioners, students and posted workers need to join the PUMa scheme, although their healthcare costs will still be covered by the UK in the short term.
If there's a no-deal then British pensioners are being urged to join the PUMa scheme, but there are concerns that will lead to them having to pay social charges. France has said it will cover healthcare for pensioners for two years although this still depends on reciprocity from the UK.
Worth bearing in mind is that current arrangements will cover you for care in France but if you are travelling you need to make arrangements.
A UK-issued EHIC card will cease to work so if you are in the French system you will need to apply for a France-issued card that will cover you for emergency medical treatment in any other EU country. This will not apply to the UK however, so if you qre going back to the UK for a trip you will not be entitled to NHS care unless you are covered by the S1 card. Everyone else will have to rely on travel insurance.
You can find out more about healthcare after Brexit here.
3. Driving: Some good news on driving licences, France and the UK have come to an agreement that they will continue to recognise each other's licenses for the foreseeble future. So you can drive in the UK with a French licence and vice versa.
4. Pet passports: While British human passports will remain valid for travel (although you will not be able to travel in the EU if your passport has less than 6 months left until its expiry date) the deal for pets is more complicated.
In a slightly lopsided arrangement, the UK will continue to recognise Pet passports issued by France but France will not recognise British Pet Passports. So while taking Fido and Tiddles back to the UK for christmas will present no problem, bringing them back to France could be an issue. Pet owners resident in France were advised to get a French Pet Passport which will allow their animals to travel as before. You can find out more about the pet regulations here.
5. Non residents: People who are not full time residents in France were reminded that Schengen Area rules state they can only spend 90 days out of every 180 in France after Brexit. Although it is not clear exactly how rigorous checking will be, particularly in the early months after Brexit, the rules do not allow stays of more than 90 days in every 190 (six months). Anyone who wishes to stay longer would have to look at long term visa options.
6. More staff for prefectures
There was also some good news for the embattled French préfectures, who will be allowed to take on more staff to deal with residency applications.
Areas like Dordogne that have a particularly high concentration of British people living there will be taking on extra staff on one-year contracts to deal with applications, which should help speed the process. There are at least 7,000 British people living in Dordogne alone, possibly many more, which has placed a huge extra workload on the local authorities who deal with residency applications.

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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.