Brexit confusion: French authorities tell British citizen his right to residency is about to expire

A British national living in France has been told by his local social security office that his permission to reside in France is about to expire, in a case that highlights the confusion around the post-Brexit status of UK citizens.

Brexit confusion: French authorities tell British citizen his right to residency is about to expire
Photo: AFP

Luke Marlow was sent a letter from the Caisse d'allocations familiale (CAF) in Moselle telling him that his right of residence would expire in September.

The letter stated: “Your right to residency is set to expire on September 10th 2020 and you will no longer be able to benefit from family allowances.”

The letter went on to ask for his titre de séjour residency permit, which British residents in France do not at present need.

While officials later admitted that he did not need a titre de séjour, it is one of several similar reported cases which highlights the confusion around the status and rights of British residents in France after Brexit.

An extract from the letter sent to Luke Marlow, a British man living in the Moselle area of France

Luke said: “I spent over an hour and a half waiting in the CAF and had to make two trips, as well as the time spent getting there and back.

“It would have been ridiculous if I weren't living in Metz, it is incredibly time-consuming.”

Groups working with British residents have reported that some people have received similar requests from their local CAF offices, while others have been asked for a carte de séjour when applying for jobs.

Justine Wallington from citizens' rights group Remain in France Together (RIFT) said: “A number of our members have experienced problems with the CAF recently.

“It's hard to say if this increase in problems is Brexit related, or if they are just sending out more of the standard droit de sejour renouvellement (right of residency renewal) forms which they have been doing for five years or more and are playing catch-up on their backlog.”

Some British drivers have also reported similar confusion over the issue of driving licences, when local gendarmes have told them that British residents in France can no longer drive on UK licences, when in fact the French government has said that for most residents, there is no need to swap their licence for a French one.

Although British citizens lost their EU citizenship on January 31st when the UK left the EU, the majority of their rights remain in place during the transition period, which lasts until December 31st 2020.

After that, individual countries have put in place their own provisions for British people already living there, under the framework of the Withdrawal Agreement which safeguards many (although not all) of the rights British people had before Brexit.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement secures a number of important rights for British people living in the EU. Photo: AFP

In France, British people do not currently need any residency permit in order to legally stay here.

All British residents have until July 2021 to apply for one of the new type of carte de séjour, via an online portal which was due to go live in July but has now been pushed back until October.

Every British citizen living in France will then have to make an application via the portal for a new residency card. Those who have a carte de séjour permenant (10 years) can simply swap their card for a new one while everyone else will have to make a new application.

You can find out more about the application process HERE.

Justine added: “If you receive one of the standard droit de sejour renouvellement forms don't worry – CAF have been sending these out for several years.

“The letter will probably start with a date when your rights to stay expire and that you need to fill out the form, sign and date it and add supporting documents.

“Your passport should “act” as your carte de séjour until we get our new ones if you don't have a carte de séjour already.

“Passports should be valid to CAF as proof for a right to stay to year-end at least (the end of the transition period) and it's reasonable to hope that they'll also be valid until new cards are issued by France in the coming year.

“For the form – where it says 'do you have a carte de séjour' you tick no and write carte de séjour non-obligatoire passport ci-joint (carte de séjour not required, passport attached) and attach a photocopy of your passport and proof you are exercising your treaty rights (copies of your tax returns if you have them) or tick yes and attach your carte de séjour if you have one.

“Where it asks for health cover – include a copy of your attestation from your health provider (usually available online through your MSA or Ameli/CPAM account).

“You will then need to fill in the section relating to whether you are employed, self-employed or in another situation.

“Consider a formal covering letter and sending it LRAR (registered post with signed receipt).

“If you don't complete this form your payments will almost certainly stop so it's not a letter to ignore.”

For many British people receiving such a letter will be worrying, especially as there has been a real lack of clarity over the rights of British nationals living in the EU. However these mistakes tend to be down to misunderstandings on the part of local officials who have not quite grasped what is, after all, a very complicated situation.

The French government has repeatedly said that it wants British people resident here to stay, and it will do all it can to facilitate the process.

Kalba Meadows from the citizens' rights group France Rights added: “We have heard of isolated cases around uninformed officials giving people the wrong information.

“The best thing for someone in that situation to do is to point to the French government Brexit website where it's clear that Brits aren't required to hold a carte de séjour until after the grace period [July 2021].”

For full detail on residency, travel, healthcare, driving and pets after Brexit, head to our Preparing for Brexit section.

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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.