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BREXIT

INTERVIEW: Brexit has turned Brits in Europe into a cohesive force but problems lie ahead

As citizens' rights coalition group British in Europe winds down, its co-chair Jane Golding tells The Local of the problems that still lie ahead for UK nationals and whether any good at all came out of Brexit for Brits living in the EU.

INTERVIEW: Brexit has turned Brits in Europe into a cohesive force but problems lie ahead
Members of British in Europe and the3million including co-chair Jane Golding (centre) meet with the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: British in Europe.

In the winter of 2017, as most Britons living in Europe were still reeling from the shock result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, a small number of individuals and groups came together united by a single aim.

Those ordinary people, who formed the coalition of citizens’ rights groups that became British in Europe, had one objective in mind; to ensure the impact and trauma of the UK’s divorce from the EU did not ruin the lives of an estimated 1.2 million Brits living across the EU.

They were based in all corners of the EU from Berlin to Brussels, central Italy, rural France and the Spanish coast and were “driven by a rage” to protect the rights given to them as EU citizens. 

After the referendum – which many Britons in the EU were barred from voting in – those rights to live, work and build a family in an EU country were under real threat. 

But after five years of relentless campaigning, most of those rights have been protected and whilst things are not quite as straightforward as before most of the hundreds of thousands of British citizens living in the EU have been able to continue their lives pretty much as before.

READ ALSO: Battling Brexit – How a group of Brits in Europe took on the fight for citizens rights

(Jane Golding speaking at a joint British in Europe/the3million rally in London”. Photo: British in Europe.)
 
‘We’d like to think we made a difference’

That’s thanks in no small way to the endless hours of work, research, lobbying and online meetings carried out by the volunteers at British in Europe and the network of British citizens’ rights groups across Europe they represented.

“We like to think that what we’ve done has made a real difference to the lives of all of these people who had their EU citizenship rights removed,” Golding tells The Local as she reflects on the group’s achievements but also what lies ahead.

“We didn’t take this wholesale removal of our rights sitting down and we did fight to make our voices heard, to get the message out there that what was being done as a result of Brexit was not OK.

“In the end the majority of the rights of UK citizens living in the EU host countries were safeguarded in their host country.”

The right to remain, work and continue to access healthcare or benefits was ensured, whilst British in Europe successfully persuaded the UK government to extend the grace period for when Britons can move back with their EU family as well as lobbying the government to release €3 million in funding to help Britons secure their post Brexit status in Europe.

There were rights that were lost however, such as the right for Britons to be able to continue to move around the EU rather than being landlocked in the country they were in at the time of Brexit or EU-wide recognition of professional qualifications.

The problems that lie ahead for Britons

But what will worry Britons in Europe is that Golding, who described their work as “painstaking legal-based advocacy”, and the rest of the British in Europe team are winding up at the end of February.

There was a will to continue but a lack of funding – an estimated €200,000 a year would have been needed – meant the volunteers were simply unable to commit long term.

Luckily many online support groups for UK citizens will still active, including groups like British in Germany and Remain in France Together, but the concern now for Britons is who will stick up for their rights at the highest level in UK and Europe? Who will give evidence to select committees in Westminster? Who will push their case at the European parliament? Who will work closely with the European Commission and governments around EU nations to ensure that Brexit does not ruin lives in the future? 

READ ALSO: How many Britons in EU acquired post-Brexit residency and how many were rejected?

“It’s a worry,” says Golding. “Our concern is that unlike for EU citizens in the UK there is no independent monitoring authority for citizens’ rights. There are some very good people working on citizens’ rights issues in the European Commission but there are not huge resources for these tasks and there’ll no longer be a coordinating EU-wide group like ours to point to issues and systemic problems.”

One of Golding’s last tasks as co-chair of British in Europe was to give evidence to the joint EU/UK Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights, which was set up to keep a check on whether the citizens’ rights aspect of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was being properly enforced.

‘Those without cards face serious problems’

Last month the Committee released figures that revealed that some some 497,100 Britons in the EU out of an estimated 1.093 million have acquired a post-Brexit residence status – although this doesn’t tell the full story because Britons living in many EU countries have not been obliged to apply for a post Brexit residence permit.

EU countries could choose whether to grant post-Brexit residence status under a constitutive system (applicants had to apply directly to government agencies to be awarded residence status), or a declaratory system (applicants’ rights were not dependent on a government decision).

Golding says it’s clearly a worry that tens of thousands of British citizens had not acquired cards even if it wasn’t obligatory to do so.

“Just how many people out there who still haven’t been reached? In declaratory countries there are still large numbers of people who haven’t registered for their status. That’s a real concern,” she says.

“Then there’s the issue of the delays in receiving cards and the problems that causes, such as accessing services and travel issues. That will be a problem until all the cards are issued and we are nowhere near that in some countries yet.”

“The problem is for most institutions you need to have a card to engage with them on a daily basis and if you haven’t yet got a card then you are a bit stuck – it’s a serious problem.

“When you are accessing employment, health services, social security, we’ve had cases in Germany where people are applying for mortgages, you don’t have to have the card but in some cases it makes your life really difficult if you don’t.”

Other issues include why some residents have been given temporary residence – for five years – when they should have been given permanent residence.

How can you prove you are absent?

A temporary residency status means they are constrained by tighter rules over how long they can leave the country without running the risk of losing residency. 

Those with permanent residency can leave for up to five years without losing residency and those with temporary residence can leave for 6 months (12 months in certain exceptional cases) but the rules are not clear for example over how to prove when the people officially left a country.

Golding says people thinking of leaving their host country need to get advice. She warns that cases will emerge over the next few years – until those with temporary residence have gained permanent residency – to come of people losing residency and those cases may well end up in European courts.

In other words it appears obvious British citizens will still need the kind of support British in Europe has offered, but they won’t be able to call upon it.

The hope is that thanks to British in Europe and the many other citizens’ rights groups that continue to exist in social media groups around Europe, British citizens are better armed and informed to tackle what problems lie ahead.

‘You can now talk of a British diaspora in the EU’

And perhaps a more mobilised and united community of British citizens is the only good thing to have emerged out of Brexit for those most affected by it.

“I think what’s come out of this is a much more cohesive force, we’ve created a political force. UK citizens in the EU have got a voice in the political process we didn’t have before. You can now talk of a British diaspora in the EU which you couldn’t before,” she said.

And after five years of blood sweat and tears has she herself got over Brexit?

“It’s been an extremely positive experience standing together to defend our rights in the face of something that was, at the time, really very depressing.

“At the time of the referendum we all went through a period of mourning and it’s also caused so many practical problems.”

Like many, Golding took German citizenship to ensure she maintained freedom of movement which she needed for work and requalified as a German lawyer.

“Once you have done these things it at least makes you feel you have secured your livelihood going forward and the position where you live and in that way you can reach some kind of peace,” she said.

Member comments

  1. The EU only understands what they call leverage . Consequently, so long as they want to see the rights of 6 million EU citizens protected in the UK, they’ll be mindful of Brit rights in Europe.

  2. I think a very big thank you is called for to all those who worked so hard and so effectively. Just so that they know.
    Victor peel

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Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Over the summer people living in France have received their tax bills, and some Brits who are residents here will have noticed that their bill is larger than usual - here's why.

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Brits who live in France and make a tax declaration here, but have income from the UK, may have noticed that their tax bill has increased this year – here’s why and whether you can challenge the increase. 

Brexit

Yes, this is Brexit related and it refers to social charges on non-French income. The standard rate for these charges are 7.5 percent for income from an EU country and 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country.

The tax bills received over the summer relate to the annual French tax declaration filed in April 2022, covering the 2021 tax year. In other words, the first year after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Social charges

Social charges are levies with a social purpose introduced in France in the 1990s to finance the country’s complex social security system.

If you have a French payslip you will already be familiar with them, and they actually make up the bulk of deductions from salaries, significantly more than income tax.

READ ALSO How to understand your French payslip

One of the big questions is whether France’s social charges are actually a ‘tax’ – the government repeatedly insists they’re not, for all that they look like a tax and are paid like a tax. 

The position on French social charges has changed several times in recent years, sometimes in response to court action all centred on whether this money that government deducts from your income can be called a ‘tax’ or not.

Katey Murray, at The Spectrum IFA Group, explained: “Article 29 of the amended Finance law of 2012 extended social charges to rental income from French properties and capital gains on properties for people who are not French tax resident.

“In 2015, a Dutch national challenged the fact that he was paying social charges in France and social security contributions in the Netherlands. The case went before the ECJ, which ruled these levies were similar to social security contributions and therefore contrary to European law.”

France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, confirmed the ECJ’s ruling. “French tax offices then, if a claim was made to them, reimbursed undue social charges,” Murray said.

“However, the French Government stated that these claims could only be made by someone covered for their healthcare by the system of another European country (EU, EEA or Switzerland) and not someone covered by a non-European health system. 

“This was confirmed by the ECJ for a French national living in China in a case in January 2018.”

Foreigners in France

And it’s this ‘healthcare system’ distinction that has become the key detail for Brits in France, clarified by a court ruling from March 2022 on the details of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. 

Social charges are currently set at 7.5 percent for income from an EU country, or 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country. So income from the UK jumped to the higher rate at the end of the Brexit transition period.

However the ECJ ruling on healthcare cover is the key bit – essentially if you are already contributing to another European country’s social security system, you benefit from the lower rate.

This mainly affects two groups – Brits living in the UK (and therefore covered by the NHS) who have income in France, and Brits who are living in France and who have an S1, which states that their healthcare costs are covered by the NHS.

S1 holders are mainly British pensioners living in France, but the scheme can also apply to other groups including students and posted workers. 

Brits who are living in France and are covered by the French health system pay the higher rate on income from the UK. 

Technically the 7.5 percent rate is a ‘social levy’ rather than the prélèvements sociaux.

The ‘social levy’ is not charged on pensions, so if you are an S1 holder who receives a British pension, you will not have to pay any social charges at all, while certain types of property income may also be exempt from social charges.

Tax

As we stated above, social charges are not a tax (although they are deducted from your income by the tax office).

Taxes on income from the UK is covered by the bilateral dual-taxation treaty between France and the UK, which states that you don’t have to pay tax in France on income that you have already paid tax on in the UK. 

So the first thing to check on your tax bill is whether deductions relate to impôt (tax) or prélèvements sociaux (social charges).

Challenge your tax bill

So what to do if you think you have been incorrectly charged on income from the UK?

If you are an S1 holder, it’s a case of telling the tax office that you benefit from the lower 7.5 percent social levy, rather than the 17.2 percent social charge.

Murray said: “You can state that you are not subject to social charges by ticking boxes 8SH/8SI on your tax form (2042 form) or, if you have been charged at the higher rate, you can claim them back on your personal page on the impots.gouv.fr website.”

If the over-charge relates to a different issue – for example you have been charged both tax and the social charge or charged on exempt income – your first step is talking to the tax office, either in person or over the phone.

READ ALSO How to challenge your French tax bill

This article is a general overview of the tax rules and is not intended as a substitute for financial advice, if your financial affairs are complicated you are always better off getting professional help from an accountant who specialises in international taxation.

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