UN begins project to help British people living in France after Brexit

The UN is preparing for a project to help vulnerable British people in France through the issues thrown up by Brexit.

UN begins project to help British people living in France after Brexit
Photo: AFP

The UN's Migration Agency is generally better known for working with refugees in war-zones and disaster-hit regions, but now the agency is advertising for staff to come and work with British people living in France.

The Agency is looking for two people – one caseworkers and one legal adviser – to work in France with vulnerable British people, helping them to navigate the administration and regularise their situations after Brexit.

READ ALSO Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – what is it and does it cover me?

The caseworkers will help vulnerable British people navigate the often complicated administration required by Brexit. Photo: AFP

The two will be based in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, and will offer advice and support in person, by email or over the phone.

The Agency says it wants the starting date to be April 2020, and the job is on a 12-month contract but with the possibility of an extension.

Among the duties involved in the positions are: “Provide comprehensive individual legal counselling to vulnerable UK nationals identified, during one-on-one meetings, via email or by telephone.

“Provide individual assistance to most vulnerable beneficiaries for online applications and during appointments with local stakeholders (including, when necessary French-English, English-French interpretation).”

Since the start of the Brexit process there has been concern about the number of people living in France who may be classed as vulnerable or who may struggle to fulfill the requirements for residency after the end of the Brexit transition period – currently set for December 31st 2020.

Unlike most European countries, France has never required EU citizens to register for residency, so no-one knows exactly how many British people live here – it is estimated to be between 150,000 and 300,000.

Many British people in France are retired, often on low incomes, and some have been living 'under the radar' as far as interaction with the French state is concerned.

There is particular concern about people who either do not have internet access or are not regularly online, as most of the vital information concerning residency, healthcare, pensions and driving has been issued online.

The issue of having 'sufficient resources' has also caused concern for many who are living on low incomes.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to stay in France after Brexit?

The UN is not the only organisation offering help and outreach to British people – the British Embassy has also been running a series of outreach events around the country as well as online Q&A sessions, and voluntary groups including Remain in France Together (RIFT), France Rights and British in Europe have all dedicated themselves to the situations of British people living in France – both through providing information and lobbying on our behalf.

And of course The Local has been reporting on this issue since 2016.

If you're confused on what you need to do to secure your status if you are already living in France or planning to move here, head to our Dealing with Brexit section.

We have the latest advice on gaining residency, registering for healthcare, your pension rights and what you need to do if you are driving in France.



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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.