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BREXIT

‘A massive betrayal’: UK’s no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger

Campaigners for British people living in the EU accused the UK government of a massive betrayal on Monday after it was announced the health costs of pensioners would only be covered for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

'A massive betrayal': UK's no-deal Brexit healthcare pledge for pensioners in EU sparks anger
Photo: AFP

Britain's health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that health costs for UK pensioners living in the EU and those with disabilities would be covered for six months if Britain leaves the bloc on October 31st without a deal.

That would see 180,000 UK citizens living in the EU, continue to have their healthcare paid for by the UK under the S1 scheme for six months after Brexit. 

That's six months less than a UK government pledge made in March to cover healthcare costs for on year in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tourists who begin their trips to the EU before Brexit and students who begin their courses before October will also have their health costs covered under a no-deal Brexit.

But while health secretary Hancock claimed the announced showed that “protecting the healthcare rights of UK nationals is a priority of this Government” it prompted much anger among campaigners and an accusation of betrayal.

'A massive betrayal of British people in Europe'

“This is yet more smoke and mirrors from the UK government and another massive let-down for UK pensioners in the EU 27,” said Jeremy Morgan, the vice-chair of British in Europe.

“Having paid UK taxes and contributions all their working lives, when they moved to their host country, they had the right and expectation to NHS-funded medical treatment for life.  This was a key factor in the decision of many when moving.

“Now the only guarantee they have is for six more months, or up to a year if they have already started treatment.  Just think what that means to someone who already needs life-long treatment, or a pensioner who gets a cancer diagnosis a month after Brexit.”

Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group said: “In just a few minutes since this news was published we've seen an outcry of anger among Brits in France – and with good reason.

“It's a massive betrayal of British people in Europe. All the promises that we were a priority and that we would be 'able to live our lives as before' have turned into an illusion”.

British pensioners living throughout Europe have been warned however that they must take action to register for healthcare in their member states or they faced being ineligible for the six months cover. Letters will be sent out to 180,000 citizens urging them to act.

“To be eligible for this support, people must apply within local timeframes or no later than six months after we leave, whichever is the shortest,” read the government statement.

But British in Europe's Morgan said: “The Government is urging them to “act now to secure access to healthcare” as if it were as simple as ordering coffee in a restaurant.

“People won’t get private health insurance if they have existing conditions, and in those countries where it is possible to join a national scheme the cost is simply unaffordable for someone living on the state pension worth 20 percent less in euros as a result of Brexit.”

The British government has said that it has proposed to each EU member state that healthcare costs for those on the S1 scheme be covered until December 2020, but that if countries do not agree on this date by October 31st then the cover will only last six months.

Confusion

As well as anger the announcement on Monday has provoked much confusion, especially in France, where the government has already passed a law that pledges to cover the healthcare costs of British pensioners for two years. Although the French decree depends on reciprocity with the UK.

“We don't know whether France is likely to reduce its two years health care cover in the light of the UK statement,” said Kalba Meadows from the France Rights campaign group.

“We don't know exactly what S1 holders in France will be required to do – will they have to make an application to join PUMa, and if so when? Or will the switch, if and when there is one, happen automatically?” she added.

“In other words, we don't know very much at all,” she said.

“I've been through a huge roller coaster of emotions over the last three years but this has upset me and made me more angry than anything else because it's targeting the most vulnerable who are already terrified,” she added.

Member comments

  1. The British people voted to leave the EU and they also chose not to switch to the euro. The EU doesn’t have to accept any deal from England. Why are people afraid of Boris? He is just enforcing what was voted for.

  2. Maybe but don’t forget that the people voted to leave the EU based on a stream of lies being broadcast by who ? Yes, Boris Johnson. It need not be said that the expatriates living in Europe were not allowed to vote in the refrendum. Teresa May promised that we would be given the vote once she was elected but once again an unfulfilled promise. Finally why should we have to pay 119 euros for a ‘permis de séjour’ when all European nationals resident in the U.K get theirs for free ? Reciprocity !!!

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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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