Australian and New Zealand expats living in the UK will no longer get a year of free access to healthcare through the National Health Service (NHS), the UK Government has said.
As of 6 April this year, Australians and New Zealanders who stay in the UK for more than six months will have to pay £200 a year to receive NHS treatment. Currently the time limit is a more generous 12 months.
This £200 charge – known as the Immigration Health Surcharge – was introduced in April 2015, and applies to all expats who are nationals of European Economic Area countries. Australia and New Zealand were originally also exempt from the surcharge.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said in a statement that the decision would “help ensure” the NHS “remains sustainable and receives a fair contribution to the cost of healthcare from temporary migrants”.
“We believe it is only fair that Australian and New Zealand nationals, who have previously benefited from a one-year exemption from the immigration health surcharge, will now contribute to our health service in the same way as other non-EEA nationals,” Brokenshire said.
Talking to media on Saturday, New Zealand prime minister John Key (pictured) criticised the UK Government’s move, saying it was “a chipping away of New Zealanders’ rights in the UK”.
“It’s pretty cheap and not really in keeping with the history of the two countries,” he said.
However, Australians and New Zealanders will not be charged for treatment that cannot wait until they return home. That is part of a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) between the nations. UK expats in Australia or New Zealand receive the same benefits. There is no suggestion that the UK government’s decision affects in any way the current RHCA.
Under the new rules, Expats aged between 18 and 30 will also receive a £50 discount, paying £150 a year to access NHS treatment, rather than the full £200.