Elsa Cormack’s UK licence expired when she turned 70 in January and she has been unable to either renew it or exchange for a French one, leaving her unable to drive despite living in a small village in southern France with no public transport.
Her husband Sydney, who has been dealing with the swap, said: “There is no public transport here, just the school bus, so I have had to drive her everywhere. Our son is getting married this year so we will try to get to the UK as soon as the borders open up, but we usually share the driving as it is a long way.”
Jon Savage, 55, lives in the Vienne département in western France and without a driving licence is now struggling to access vital medical appointments.
He said: “I’m an insulin-dependant diabetic so my UK licence needs renewing every three years. I moved to France in 2018 and sent off my dossier in November 2018 to swap my licence for a French one.
“It was returned and I was told I could keep driving on my UK licence for the time being. I applied again at the end of last year because the licence was close to expiring but my application has been sitting in a queue ever since and now my UK licence has expired.
“I can’t get to my medical appointments which are in Poitiers, which particularly important for me as I have just been diagnosed with a heart problem.
Brits living in France were supposed to have 12 months to exchange their licences, with the exchange process intended to open on January 1st 2021 and an agreement that UK licences for residents in France would continue to be recognised until the end of 2021.
This applies only to British people living in France and does not affects tourists, visitors or second-home owners.
However when January 1st came around, the online portal for licence swaps was not accepting applications for UK licences.
The British Embassy in Paris initially told The Local that the French site simply needed to be updated, but later admitted that the problem was the lack of a reciprocal agreement in place between France and the UK.
There is still no agreement in place and the window to exchange licences has now shrunk to just over nine months.
But those whose licences expire face being left with no licence at all, a huge problem for those living in rural France where public transport networks are often minimal or non-existent.
UK driving licences need renewing once the driver hits 70, but currently this is impossible, making this a particular problem for the over 70s.
Sydney said: “I applied online for her in November last year, when they were at least still accepting applications from people whose licence would shortly expire, but since then we have heard nothing and every time I call or email they just say to wait.
“We can’t get any help or advice from people, some say just to keep driving anyway but the official advice seems clear that you cannot drive if you don’t have a valid UK licence and it would probably invalidate the insurance.
“We’re lucky because I managed to exchange my licence the previous year, but what about people living alone?”
A spokesman from the British Embassy in Paris said: “The latest on exchanging driving licences in France remains that UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021.
“The rules for exchanging your licence have not been confirmed. We will provide updates as soon as we have them, and you can find full information here.”
Since 2019 Brits living in France have only been able to exchange their licences in certain specific circumstances after an earlier surge in applications left a massive backlog at the centre in Nantes that processes such applications.
This means that people who moved to France since 2019 have never been able to apply to change their licence, while many others were left waiting for months or had their application turned down.
French officials are still working through the backlog, which is also slowing down some applications from drivers of other nationalities.
Anyone who doesn’t manage to exchange their driving licence before it expires potentially faces having to take a French driving test, a lengthy and expensive undertaking even for people who have many years’ experience behind the wheel.
A petition has now been launched calling on the French and UK governments to end the hardship and conclude a reciprocal agreement. You can sign the petition HERE.