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Long-term Brits in Spain to be denied vote in another UK election

Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to hold a snap general election on June 8th means British voters who have been in Spain for over 15 years will once again be denied their say, after being promised they would have a vote.

Long-term Brits in Spain to be denied vote in another UK election
Photo: AFP

Last year the Tory government announced it would introduce a bill to scrap the unpopular 15-year-limit on expat voting rights in time for the next general election.

But after Conservative PM Theresa May made the shock announcement on Tuesday that she planned to hold a snap election on June 8th, it’s clear the limit will not be ditched in time, meeting tens of thousands of longterm expats living in Spain and around the world will be disenfranchized yet again.

British citizens living abroad who had successfully campaigned against the 15-year-rule for many years will be furious at the thought of not having a vote once again, despite being promised it.

Many long term British expats were angry at not having a vote in the 2015 general election and in particular the momentous 2016 Brexit referendum which directly impacted them. 

The conservative government had included a pledge to scrap the 15-year-limit in its 2015 election manifesto and last year announced the “votes for life” bill would be drawn up in time for the 2020 general election. 

But it won't be ready in time for the vote in June.

A petition was started on Wednesday demanding that the right to vote in the June 8th general election be extended to all British citizens abroad.

“We, the undersigned, are asking you, Theresa May, to extend the fundamental right to a vote  to all British citizens, regardless of where in the world they reside or how long they have lived outside the UK,” wrote Chris Madsen, a resident of Marseille, France on the Change.org petition.

Forums were quickly filled with complaints by those British residents abroad riled at the idea that they would yet again be disenfranchised.

“We are furious, that the vote for life hasn't been implemented before this election, abandoned yet again,” said Valerie Chaplin, a member of Bremain in Spain, which campaigns for the rights of British people in Spain.

“Cameron promised us a vote in the next election, May promised us a vote in the next election, all I have is broken promises,” commented Steve Gilbert on the Bremain in Spain Facebook page.

Announcing plans to lift the 15-year rule in October last year, Chris Skidmore, the constitution minister, said: “This statement shows how we will introduce “votes for life”.

“British citizens who move abroad remain a part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate. 

“Following the British people's decision to leave the EU, we now need to strengthen ties with countries around the world and show the UK is an outward-facing nation. 

“Our expat community has an important role to play in helping Britain expand international trade, especially given two-thirds of expats live outside the EU.” 

Christopher Chantrey Chairman of the British Community Committee of France told The Local: “There is little hope now of the promised Votes For Life Bill being passed before the registration deadline for the June 8 election. So once again, hundreds of thousands of UK citizens will be unfairly deprived of their chance to vote.

“I am very, very disappointed that the Government has once again forgotten us, and once again forgotten the promise it made to give us the lifelong voting rights that virtually all other advanced democracies already enjoy.”

Brits who are eligible to vote must make sure they are on the electoral roll and apply for a postal or a proxy vote. 

Register to vote here.

For members

BREXIT

BREXIT: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

British residents of Spain have flagged up the latest Brexit consequence that could affect not just them, but also UK nationals living in other EU countries. Holders of Premium Bonds have been warned they may have to cash in their investments if they can no longer hold a bank account in their home country. 

BREXIT: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

The news has been shared on Facebook groups by people affected, after they were sent a letter from the state-owned UK savings bank NS&I (National Savings & Investments) warning them that a UK bank or building society account is an essential requirement for holders of their products. 

Premium Bonds are a type of lottery run by NS&I. Britons or UK residents can invest an amount ranging from £25 to £50,000 (€29 to €58,300+) in the bonds, with a number assigned to each pound invested.

Winning numbers are drawn each month awarding tax-free prizes. The amount invested is completely safe. As much as £1 million is on offer in the monthly draws, with the lowest prize coming in at £25.

NS&I also offers a range of other investment products, such as Income Bonds – which pay regular interest to holders – and Direct ISAs, which are a tax-free savings account. 

According to NS&I, which was responding to questions from The Local, all of their products are affected by this change.

The reason for the warning to customers is the fact that some UK banks have been closing the accounts of their customers based in the EU, given that these lenders no longer have the licence necessary to maintain them after Brexit. 

Judy Filmer has lived on the Costa del Sol for 21 years, and is among the NS&I customers to receive the letter, as did her 95-year old mother, who is also a resident of Spain.

“For many older folks this will be another upheaval to negotiate in the storm left by Brexit,” she told The Local.

“NS&I and Premium Bonds are cosy ways of saving, and pensioners find them easy to use.”

Lloyds Bank, Barclays and Coutts are among the lenders who have been closing accounts of their UK customers resident in the EU.

Other banks, however, including HSBC, Santander and NatWest, are currently taking no such action for clients that fall into this category. 

The letter sent earlier this year by NS&I stated that “some banks and building societies in the UK have told their customers living in certain EU countries that they will no longer be permitted to hold their UK-based accounts” since the Brexit transition.

“As you live in one of those countries,” the missive continues, “we realise that this could affect your ability to continue holding your NS&I Premium Bonds and Income Bonds account(s). This is because you need to have a UK bank or building society account to continue to operate an account with NS&I.”

The communication from NS&I goes on to warn holders of its products that they will have to provide details of another UK account held, or if “you don’t have access to another UK account in your name, you will need to close your NS&I account.” 

Speaking to The Local, NS&I clarified that “it would be impractical and against NS&I’s Customer Agreement (terms and conditions) for [these customers] to continue holding NS&I products. NS&I’s Customer Agreement requires customers to keep a UK bank or building society account open in order to operate its accounts.”

However, all is not lost. NS&I confirmed to The Local that “any UK bank or building society account that can receive BACS payments” will be accepted for holders of its products living in the EU. 

premium bonds

HSBC, Santander, NatWest and other banks are currently taking no action against clients abroad regarding Premium Bonds. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

London-based financial technology company Wise (formerly TransferWise) does offer such an account.

“British nationals living in the EU can open a Wise Account to get their own personal UK account details, which supports payments made by BACS transfer,” the firm told The Local. “This means UK citizens living in the EU can get a personal UK account number with the Wise Account.”

In practice this means that anyone who holds NS&I products, and is facing having their UK account closed by their lender due to Brexit, can open a substitute account with Wise or a similar firm that supports BACS payments and accepts UK nationals resident in the EU as customers. 

Providing, of course, no more ‘Brexit benefits’ arrive…

Breakout box: Tax on Premium Bonds

While winnings from Premium Bonds are tax free in the United Kingdom, it’s a different story if you are living in Spain.

The Local spoke to Spain-based financial adviser Chris Burke, who explained that the rules of each individual country determine whether tax is due on prizes from the product.

“In Spain, each year you must declare any monies received from these whether you access this or not, and pay the tax liable,” he explained.

“This would be savings/capital gains tax starting from 19 percent [for amounts up to €6,000] and rising up to 26 percent [for anything over €200,001].”

So be warned: while you might take home a tidy million pounds in the UK if your Premium Bonds number comes up, in Spain you’ll have to share it out with the Tax Agency.

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