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HEALTHCARE

Healthcare in Spain after Brexit: What you need to know

The latest UK government announcement about the provision of health care to British nationals living in the EU in the event of a No-deal Brexit sent shockwaves through the ‘expat’ community and was particularly alarming for those Brits in the EU who are pensioners or living with long term illnesses or disabilities.

Healthcare in Spain after Brexit: What you need to know
Photo: Alexis84/Depositphotos

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 guaranteed for six months if Britain leaves the bloc on October 31st without a deal.

That could mean that if no withdrawal agreement in place Britons living in the European Union could find themselves unable to access local healthcare from May next year. 

Currently, pensioners can benefit from the “S1” reciprocal healthcare rules if they retire in the EU, EEA countries or Switzerland.

But if the situation changes it could lead to an increased burden on the NHS as British retirees decide it's better to return to the UK for treatment.

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Photo: AFP

This news that those who were surviving on S1 forms could have their healthcare withdrawn caused great anxiety and facebook groups for Brits in Europe were inundated with angry comments about the development.

“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.

Hancock’s statement brought confusion: Hadn’t Spain already agreed to honour British residents’ rights to health care under the Royal Decree contingency plans brought into law in March?

Was this statement a signal that there would be no sign of the reciprocity that the Spanish demand?

The Local sought clarification from the Department of Health and Social Care over the issue and we can confirm that the latest statement does not cancel out previous agreements.

“The UK and Spain have each taken steps to ensure that people living in each country can continue to access healthcare as they do now until at least 31 December 2020,” insists the DHSC in a statement sent to The Local Spain.

“This means that if you are currently living in Spain and the UK currently pays for your healthcare, for example you are an S1 form holder, your healthcare access will remain the same after  October 31st 2019.”

It also confirmed that even in the event of a No-Deal Brexit, UK-issued European Health Insurance Care (EHIC) holders in Spain, such as tourists, students and some workers, “will also be able to continue to access healthcare in the same way until at least December 31st  2020.”

And there’s some reassuring news for those with existing medical conditions: “Those who have planned treatment in Spain using an S2 form, will also be able to continue to access healthcare in the same way until at least 31 December 2020.”

Information on the Brexit section of the Spanish government website also states the same continued rights for British citizens resident in Spain but emphasises that only so long as “the competent British authorities grant reciprocal treatment to Spanish citizens”.

So, Britons in Spain can be sure of an extra seven months more than the guaranteed healthcare announced by Hancock – at least until the end of December 2020.

How to prepare for Brexit:

Make sure that you are registered with Spanish social security and that you have a valid health card.

Your rights may change if there is a no-deal Brexit and the Spanish and UK authorities and whatever agreement comes next it will be easier to prove that you were entitled to it if you are already in the system.

If you have health insurance, keep it updated and see if you can guarantee your current rate will be maintained for at least the next year. Premiums might well go up for Brits after Brexit.

If you're an S1 form holder, you are currently entitled to a UK-issued EHIC for use when you're travelling outside of Spain. This may not be accepted in all EU countries if there's a no-deal Brexit so make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance.

Spanish legislation guarantees the right to healthcare for all workers registered in the Spanish social security system, even if there's a no-deal Brexit.

If you're working in Spain, you may have a Spanish-issued EHIC. This will continue to be accepted in other EU countries and the UK.

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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