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BREXIT

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit

The British government spelled out on Thursday what it would do to protect the rights of British citizens living in the EU in the event that the UK crashed out of the union without a deal, including those who were forced to return home.

Pensions and healthcare: UK offers assurances to Brits in EU over no-deal Brexit
Photo: AFP

The policy paper spells out some of the measures that would be taken to protect the citizens' rights of EU nationals living in Britain and those of Britons living throughout the EU if there was a no-deal Brexit.

However the government insists that the only way the rights of Britons can really be protected is if the deal is ratified.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is the only way the UK government can guarantee the rights of the one million UK nationals living in the EU,” says the document.

The British government has called on EU member states to uphold their commitments to protect the rights of Britons living in their countries, whom they want to be able to stay and enjoy the same rights and protections as when Britain was part of the EU.

But the government accepts that depends on London acting first.

“That is why the UK has taken steps to remove any ambiguity and provide complete reassurance for EU citizens in the UK. We ask that the EU and Member States do the same for our nationals,” reads the policy paper.

“We have always been clear that we highly value the contributions EU citizens make to the social, economic and cultural fabric of the UK and that we want them to stay in the UK.

“To remove any ambiguity, the UK Government guarantees that EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and we will take the necessary steps to protect their rights even in a unlikely ‘no deal’ scenario.”

This should be positive news for Britons living in the EU. For example the French government has stated it will protect the rights of Britons in France based on what is in the withdrawal agreement, but only if London acted and gave guarantees to French nationals in London.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Reman in Farnce Together Campaign groups told The Local: “We very much hope that this confirmation that the UK intends to effectively honour the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement if there's no deal will be enough for France to go ahead and do the same.”

Pensions and healthcare

The paper contains some pledges that will be important to Britons living throughout the EU, notably those who are retired.

“Where it is in our control, the UK will also continue to preserve certain rights of UK nationals in the EU, for example by continuing to pay an uprated UK state pension to eligible UK nationals living in the EU.”

And if British nationals found they could no longer continue their lives in the EU and were forced to return home then the government said it would “consider” rather than guarantee certain measures.

On the subject of health and voting the government said: “We understand that access to healthcare is vital and can confirm that UK nationals who returned to the UK permanently in a ‘no deal’ scenario would have access to NHS-funded healthcare on the same basis as UK nationals already living here. They would also be able to register to vote in local and national elections.

And on the issue of returning with family members who are not British nationals:

“We understand the right to bring EU and non-EU citizen family members is an important concern. The Government is considering the support that could be offered and will set out further details in due course,” reads the paper.

And if people have to return to the UK?

And when it comes to accessing vital benefits and housing, the government says it is considering how best to act to support returning UK nationals.

“We recognise that an issue raised by UK nationals is their ability to access to benefits and housing quickly on return to the UK. Arrangements will be made to ensure continuity of payments for those who return and are already in receipt of UK state pension or other UK benefits while living in the EU.

“We are considering how support could be offered to returning UK nationals where new claims are made and will set out further details in due course. UK nationals will continue to be able to access education in the UK,” the paper says. 

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “A lot of people have asked us what would happen if they felt they had to return to the UK after Brexit. So it's reassuring to read that the UK would ensure immediate access to health care and benefits, as that's been a huge concern.”

Reciprocal agreements need to be made

But the British government accepts that in the case of no deal, much depends on reciprocal agreements so no matter what London offers to EU citizens, Brits in the EU still need their adopted countries to agree to put the same measures in place especially when it comes to healthcare and benefits.

“Aspects of the reciprocal healthcare and social security coordination section of the Withdrawal Agreement require reciprocity from the EU or individual Member States and cannot be protected unilaterally,” the document said.

“We are exploring options to protect past social security contributions, made in the EU and the UK, and reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the unlikely event of a 'no deal' scenario. We are in the early stages of discussions and will announce further details of such options prior to our exit to allow citizens to make appropriate arrangements.”

Meadows said: “This should reassure a lot of British pensioners living in France as well as those who've worked both in France and the UK and whose contributions would be aggregated.”

The UK wants is citizens to be able to carry on standing and voting in local elections in the countries where they live and so says it will guarantee that EU nationals will be able to vote in local elections in the UK.

One line in the policy paper that did anger campaigners was the government's claim that they have “engaged extensively with UK nationals in the EU over the last two years.”

British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “Although we have met with officials at Department for Exiting the EU, we at British in Europe have been trying continuously to meet with the Secretary of State for that department and have never had been invited to do so.

“We've also requested meetings with Theresa May on several occasions and our requests have simply not been acted on. We would very much like to have had the opportunity to present the concerns of the 1.2 million Brits in the EU to both of these directly – and indeed we still would.”

You can read the full policy paper by clicking here.

 

 

Member comments

  1. No deal is the default position, and the only one with Royal Assent. What is bad is that Theresa May has not made proper provision for it and wasted over 30 months chasing pie-in-the-sky ‘deals’ of her own design, to suit Brussels and against the wishes of the UK voters. If she fails to convince Parliament of her unrealistic wishes, the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 poorly prepared.

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BREXIT

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.

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