British expats in the EU fearing losing health, benefit and pension rights if UK leaves

by Ray Clancy on February 23, 2016

British expats living and working in Europe are largely in favour of the UK staying in the European Union and campaigning groups have already voiced their concerns about the effects an exit would have.

It is estimated that around two million British people currently work in EU countries and many are concerned that if the UK votes to leave in the referendum in June it will have a major effect on their lives.

They are particularly concerned about the current rights they have to benefits, pensions and healthcare which are currently protected by the UK’s membership of the EU. Although all of these could be the subject of “a deal” it is feared that it will nonetheless lead to months of uncertainty.


British MP Sir Roger Gale, who is known for his campaigning on behalf of British expats in Europe, has said that he intends to vote for the UK to remain within the European Union.

“There are thousands of UK citizens who have paid their taxes and their National Insurance contributions throughout their working lives and who now live in other European Countries. Many of them are now very frightened because they do not know what will happen to them if Britain votes to leave the EU,” he asked the UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons.

Cameron, who wants the UK to remain in Europe, gave a response that indicated that expats indeed face unpredictability. He said that there was uncertainty over the position of UK citizens living in European countries were the UK to leave and that would have to be the subject of negotiation.

“This is a very worrying situation for those who have chosen to work and retire overseas and for those planning to do so. I have already written to the Prime Minister to seek clarification in respect of pension rights, uprating and other benefits and I am awaiting a response,” Gale said.

“It looks as though a Brexit vote would pile uncertainty upon what are already sometimes difficult situations and decisions. It is, I think, vital that all of those entitled to register and to use their votes,” he added.

But British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are not entitled to vote on the referendum. Gale is urging all those who can to register now for a postal or proxy vote.

According to Brian Cave, a pensioner in France who runs a campaign for all expats to have voting rights, believes that if health care support ceased some less well-off expats would find paying for full health insurance impossible.

There is also concern about the impact of currency exchange which with the Pound Euro rates being hit. For example, when London Mayor Boris Johnson announced he was in favour of the UK leaving the EU, Sterling fell by as much as 1.2% against the Euro on Monday.

There is also concern that British pensioners in the EU could be frozen out of any increases in the UK state pension like expats living in other parts of the world such as Canada and South Africa.

Jason Porter, director at financial advisors Blevins Franks, said that tax and national insurance issues could be affected if the UK leaves. He explained that under UE rules a person should only pay social security contributions in one country where you live and work.

“Without renegotiation, Brexit could result in dispute between nations as to where the social security liability lies, or worse, a liability in both nations,” he added.

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