Brits in France reassured – your healthcare will continue after December 31st

Brits in France who had been wrongly informed their healthcare cover would run out on December 31st have been given reassurance from the French health authorities.

Brits in France reassured - your healthcare will continue after December 31st
Photo: AFP

Several people who are already registered with the French healthcare system and have a carte vitale were alarmed to note their certificates of health cover all expired on December 31st.

When querying it, they were told that this was due to Brexit and local health offices were awaiting further instructions.

Healthcare has been a major concern for many British residents, particularly in 2019 when a no-deal exit loomed and thousands of British pensioners faced the prospect of having to either pay for expensive health insurance or lose health cover.

That threat receded once the UK exited with a deal, and the Withdrawal Agreement guarantees health cover for all British people already resident by December 31st for the rest of their lives.

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

However, when Lot-et-Garonne resident Sue Jarvis went to download her attestation des droits – the certificate that shows you have health cover in France – she was alarmed to note that it gave her just three months' cover and expired on December 31st, 2020. Normally the attestation covers one years from the date it is downloaded.

She said: “We have a network of friends and one of them sent a round robin email on October 3rd to say that there might be a problem with Lot-et-Garonne and our carte vitales because suddenly an end date of December 31st 2020 for our attestations de droits had appeared on the Ameli website. I checked our own account and sure enough that is what I found.

“So I contacted Ameli through their messaging site was told that my documents indicated a limit date. When I enquired further I was told this was Brexit related and they were awaiting further information.”

Several other British residents, mostly pensioners who are covered by the S1 scheme, reported a similar issue.

As well as the problem of not being covered for any treatment required, proof of health cover is necessary to secure residency for some groups, including pensioners.

However after enquiries from The Local, a spokesman for assurance maladie, the French state healthcare system, reassured British residents that their cover will continue.

Communications Head Léo Leroy said the problem had arisen because of ministry guidance issued to local offices at an earlier stage in the Brexit negotiation process which instructed them to limit the date on attestations.

However this problem has now been rectified and new guidance has been issued.

He said: “Under Article 30, for persons who have been resident before December 31st 2020 and who continue to be in that situation after that date: the provisions of the European coordination regulations are applicable to them without any time limit, provided they continue to be in a cross-border situation.

“In the case described: a British national living in France before December 31st 2020. This person will continue to benefit from the right to French health insurance after December 31st 2020, as long as he or she resides in France.

“Since October 7th 2020, the Ministry has given new instructions: no longer limit the validity date of entitlement forms to insured persons whose link with the United Kingdom is prior to December 31st 2020. The validity of the form must now be set according to the duration of the situation (permanent residence, stay, secondment etc.).”

Although the Withdraw Agreement lays out that British people already legally resident in France by December 31st 2020 have their rights to residency and healthcare guaranteed, this is not the first time that British people have been incorrectly told their rights are expiring or expired.

In August a British man living in Moselle was incorrectly told by his local benefits office that his residency was about to expire while later in the summer job adverts appeared in ski resorts saying that British people could not apply due to the uncertainty over their status.

Speaking to The Local about the residency issue, 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].”

You can also find full information on the situation with residency, healthcare, pensions and travel on our Preparing for Brexit section.



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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”