UK Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure from expat groups to clarify the position on the UK’s existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with EU countries, amid concerns that hundreds of thousands of expat pensioners will be forced to return to the UK.
Currently, UK expats living in such popular retirement destinations as Spain, France and Italy are able to receive free healthcare in their country of residence, which is then reimbursed by the UK’s National Health Service. Citizens from these countries enjoy a similar arrangement.
The concerns were raised yesterday by individuals who represented a number of European expat groups, who had been invited to testify before a House of Commons Brexit Select Committee meeting. Their comments were broadcast via a video link on the UK government’s online TV channel.
At present, UK pensioners and others leaving the UK to live in European countries fill out an “S1 Form” that enables them to register for subsidised care from the local health authority in the EU country in which they plan to live.
The concern now being voiced by British pensioners living in Europe is that these provisions might not be maintained after the UK leaves Europe, resulting in a sudden influx of elderly UK nationals returning to the UK for treatment — which, they note, could put further strain on the NHS. In Spain alone, pensioners are estimated to account for around 108,000 of an official British population of around 300,000.
UK expats in Spain
Among the British nationals who spoke in Westminster on Wednesday was Sue Wilson, from an online expat group that calls itself “Bremain in Spain”. The organisation campaigns for the rights of British people in Spain.
Wilson told the parliamentary select committee that the UK should make the first move on the issue of the rights of EU citizens in Britain and those of Brits living around Europe.
Christopher Chantrey, head of the British Community Committee of France, echoed Wilson’s comments, telling the committee, which is headed up by Labour MP Hilary Benn, that immediate action was called for.
“It is the UK triggering this process,” he added. “It would be a magnanimous gesture, and a good way to open the negotiations, by saying ‘this is what we are going to do for EU nationals in the UK’.”
Valencia-based Wilson, who has lived in Alcocebre with her husband for 10 years, added that people are “suffering now, and people have been suffering since the referendum [which took place on June 23rd last year] because of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen in the future”.
“Whatever needs to be decided needs to be decided soon because these people can’t wait two and half years for the solution,” said Wilson.
The plunging value of the pound is also hurting expatriates and other British expatriates living in Europe who receive some or all of their income in the British currency, the expat groups told the UK lawmakers. Many people, Wilson told them, “are struggling financially”.
“We need to get away from this perception that expats in Spain are all on holiday, and have a good income and good standard of living,” she added.
“Many people have moved to Spain particularly for their health, because they suffer from rheumatism or arthritis, [and so tend to] do better in a warmer climate, so beyond any financial considerations, returning to the UK could have an impact on their life expectancy.”
On Tuesday, in her long-awaited speech outlining her plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, UK prime minister Theresa May, pictured left, said she was reluctant to guarantee the rights of Spanish, French and other EU nationals living in the UK until she had been given similar guarantees about Brits living in these countries.