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Cutting back and applying for benefits: How Brits living in France have been hit by weak pound

In recent weeks, the pound has become weaker when compared to other currencies, namely the euro. This has made life more complicated for Brits living in France. The Local asked readers to share their experiences - and advice - for others who find themselves in the same situation.

Cutting back and applying for benefits: How Brits living in France have been hit by weak pound
Sterling pounds coins and bankotes displayed on a table, in London. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

While the pound is still low when compared to other currencies, it has recovered somewhat since its drop after the British Chancellor’s mini-budget.

As of October 5th, the exchange rate was £1 to €1.14. For British people living in France who receive income in pounds sterling – whether they be pensioners or others with financial interests still in the UK – the drop in the pound’s value has had negative impacts.

The Local reached out to readers to hear how they have been affected by the exchange rate. Many offered their tips for navigating the current economic landscape.

Many readers found life still affordable, but expected to be more severely impacted in the future. Retiree A. Wood, who lives in Haute Vienne, said that “The recent drop in the value of the pound will not immediately affect me. If it remains low for more than a year then maybe I will have to do some calculating.”

Pensioners especially said that life in France had become “more expensive” and “costlier” for them, but being aware of price rises and managing the changes “with care” were plausible solutions for the time-being.

In general residents of France are better protected from inflation than many other European nations, thanks to government initiatives such as energy price caps and fuel rebates, but prices for many everyday items such as food have been rising steadily.

One respondent, Nigel Harrison, a retired former business consultant, said that weak pound has “not made life unaffordable, but worrying.” 

Meanwhile, some readers, all of whom are also retired, said that they were starting to feel more serious impacts of the exchange rate.

Retired librarian and micro entrepreneur, Pat Hallam, who has been living in Paris for the last two years, said that she receives her career pension in pounds, which she later transfers into euros by way of her French bank account.

She explained that she already works to supplement the cost of life in Paris, but now she expects to have to take on extra work.

She expects to also “cut back on things like socialising, eating out and culture.”

“Explaining this to friends will be hard, and it is what makes living in Paris a pleasure. I know the cost of living would be cheaper in other parts of France, but I’ve spent the last 2 years building a life in Paris, my dream destination. I would be very disappointed if events across the Channel forced me to move away, or even back to the UK,” she said.

READ MORE: The best banks for non-EU citizens living in France

Pat is not alone – Tom Baker, who is retired and lives in south-west France – said, “All my pensions are from the UK and the drop in exchange is definitely felt, coupled with the loss on transferring the money to France as I have five pensions.”

Baker explained that having his income drop has been particularly difficult “as a 74 year old with two young sons aged seven and 10” and amid “the present financial climate the cost of everything is spiralling.” 

Many readers said they would try to live on savings while waiting for the value of the pound to rise again, which has also posed its own problems, as many British bank accounts have begun closing the accounts of non-UK residents. 

John Stanley Mumford found himself in this situation, he said: “I have a pension in pounds. I will live on savings until the value of pound goes up! But, Barclays bank is to close my account as I am a French resident, so basically I’m stuffed!”

READ MORE: Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in France

Non-pensioners have also felt the impacts of a weak pound. One respondent discussed the dilemma of attempting to sell their UK home, and worrying about whether they should leave the money in pounds or transfer it to Euros afterwards. Others worried about their UK savings accounts.

Respondents did offer helpful advice for others in similar positions – ranging from tips to try to hold out for a better exchange rate to recommendations for how to become thriftier – like getting rid of unused streaming services and cutting back generally. 

Tom Baker said he recommends transferring funds “perhaps every three months to reduce the cost of transfer fees, which since Brexit have really increased.”

He also said that he checks the daily rate “for a week or 10 days before the transfer is needed to try and get a better each rate.” Others said if possible – wait until the pound recovers.

However, for those unable to hold out until the pound is stronger, several readers recommended apps and international banking services, such as Wise and Revolut as handy ways to find better exchange rates and avoid high fees when transferring between a UK bank and a French one. 

Finally, Pat Hallam counselled Brits living in France to consider applying for welfare benefits if necessary. She said even if you’ve never considered it, “either out of pride or because you didn’t think you were eligible, maybe now’s the time to look again.”

She also recommended tracking energy use more carefully via a smart metre: it “takes three months’ use before you can start comparing consumption but it helps keep track of your energy use.”

READ MORE: Living in France: How to cut your household energy use by 10% this winter

Many thanks to everyone who took part in our survey and shared their experiences and tips.

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CULTURE

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

Foie gras pate, the consummate delicacy of French holiday tables, might be harder to find this year and certainly pricier due to a bird flu outbreak that ravaged farms across the west and south last winter.

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

After millions of ducks and geese were culled to halt the epidemic, some farmers say they are having to take an unprecedented step — using females to produce the luxury treat.

The taste is the same, but female livers are much smaller and harder to work with, and the impact on a producer’s bottom line is inescapable.

“It was double or nothing, but either we just sat and waited — which is not in our nature — or we try to offer a product that respects our consumers,” said Benjamin Constant in Samatan, southwest France.

President of the foie gras marketing board for the Gers department, Constant warned that it was only a stop-gap measure, especially for higher-quality fresh foie gras.

Most livers have veins that must be removed, but those of female livers are much bigger and require more effort to extract, which puts off clients seeking the smooth texture of fresh foie gras that is either seared in a pan, or used to make pate.

“A significant amount cannot be sold fresh, which penalises the producers who sell at public markets,” Constant said.

Jacques Candelon, who has been raising ducks in the rolling plains of nearby Sarrant since 1998, said this is the first year the majority of his 26,000 birds are females, which are usually reserved to produce meat for export.

“80 percent are females — it was either that or nothing,” the 52-year-old told AFP at his farm, dressed head to toe in protective gear to prevent any contamination of his animals.

Bigger stretch

Animal rights activists have long denounced the force-feeding of ducks and geese to make foie gras, calling it an unnecessary cruelty despite producers’ claims of introducing measures to make the process more humane.

France remains the world’s largest producer and consumer, usually raising some 30 million ducks alone each year, even though some French cities have banned it from official functions.

But two brutal bird flu outbreaks in recent years decimated flocks as authorities imposed culls, with just 21 million ducks raised in 2021, a number expected to plunge to 15 million for 2022, according to the CIFOG producers’ association.

More problematic was the impact on breeding farms, which found themselves with only scant numbers of male chicks to offer producers this year.

Labeyrie, the brand that dominates sales among mass retailers, expects a shortage of 30 to 40 percent this holiday season, by far the most important time of the year for the sector.

Spiralling energy and feed prices, fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also make foie gras more of a stretch for family budgets.

“There will be enough for the holidays but in limited quantities,” CIFOG director Marie-Pierre Pe told AFP in September. “We’re hoping that people are going to be reasonable and will share what little there is.” 

‘Big effort’

Old habits die hard, however, and at the bustling weekly duck market at Samatan, a foie gras bastion near Toulouse in the heart of Gers, much of the crowd wanted only the pale, plump male livers.

“Females are much, much smaller and after force-feeding, the livers are smaller and less attractive visually,” said Didier Villate, a veterinarian who has overseen the Samatan market for over 40 years.

Next to a tray of glistening male livers, many of the female livers had red blotches with thick dark veins, “which is unfortunately something we find quite often” even though it doesn’t change the taste or texture, Villate said.

“Clients are surprised, so we have to make a big effort to explain to consumers that there is no danger — It’s purely visual, you can buy and eat them just the same,” he said.

But male or female, prices have spiked to between €55 and €60 a kilogramme, or “€15 to €20 more than normal,” said Constant, calling 2022 “catastrophic for the sector.”

For Gilberte Bru, who like dozens of others rushed in at the market’s opening whistle to stock up for the holidays, the decision was easy — she picked the male livers.

“Yes, because they are bigger,” she said.

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