No-deal Brexit: British pensioners in EU to lose NHS healthcare cover

British retirees living in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and elsewhere in the EU will lose their free healthcare if no Brexit deal has been agreed by March 29th, the UK government said on Tuesday.

No-deal Brexit: British pensioners in EU to lose NHS healthcare cover
Photo: Depositphotos
At the moment British nationals who retire to the EU have their healthcare covered by the NHS but in the event of a no deal this will no longer be the case, the UK government revealed in a technical notice published on Tuesday.
The news will no doubt be met with fear and worry among the 190,000 British pensioners who are retired in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and other EU countries.
It is believed that the situation could lead to an increased burden on the NHS due to the fact that British retirees may decide it's better to return to the UK for treatment.
Currently, pensioners can benefit from the “S1” reciprocal healthcare rules if they retire in the EU, EEA countries or Switzerland.

Brexit: What are Britons living in France supposed to do now?

The S1 certificate helps pensioners and their dependants access healthcare in France. 
“If you have an S1 certificate, it will be valid until 29 March 2019. After this date, the certificate may not be valid, depending on decisions by member states,” the government said. 
Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain campaign group blasted the change.
“All along we've been told our healthcare is protected. This is a big shock to everyone and our members are really scared,” she said. 
Online support groups for Britons in EU countries have been bombarded with posts in recent weeks from pensioners worried anxious about the future of their health care. Some are undergoing cancer treatment and believe any upheaval caused by Brexit could mean life or death for them.
The UK government, which previously said it is cheaper to pay EU countries to look after Britons’ medical bills than have them return home, is attempting to secure bilateral deals with EU member states regarding healthcare however none have been agreed so far. 
The technical notice advises Britons in living in European countries to sign up for the local healthcare system which, in many cases, will mean paying for treatment. 

Member comments

  1. This treatment, or even the threat, at the eleventh hour by a government who has promised that this would not happen is despicable and beyond contemptible; especially as a large swathe of British expats have been disenfranchised by the 15-year rule and have not been allowed a say in such an important vote that will effect their future.

  2. I wish all us anti Brexit Brits living outside the not so UK could descend on London gather outside Parliment and protest against this bloody awful government. When i saw interviews with some British Pensioners living in Spain saying they were voting yes to coming out of the EU I thought to myself dumb is too polite a word then later to see their reactions when told the pound would drop against the euro so they would loose money and they might not get the reciprocal healthcare the enjoy now and would have to pay for their healthcare the expressions on their faces were priceless. Sorry but they are dumme Idioten

  3. There was a report in the Guardian yesterday, quoting the DH&SC (Dept of Health & Social Care) that discussions were advanced with France and Spain over re-introducing reciprocal health cover under bi-lateral agreements, which will be needed if there is no deal. The point was well understood that it is cheaper for them to fund our care here, than in the UK. Basically, we were told not to worry.

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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.