Britons in Europe express anger over UK government’s Brexit healthcare offer

The British government's offer to cover the health costs of UK pensioners in Europe was meant to provide reassurance to elderly British citizens. The time-limited offer has been met with scorn however by rights groups that represent British nationals in the EU.

Britons in Europe express anger over UK government's Brexit healthcare offer
Photo: egal/Depositphotos

The offer of a 12-month assurance of health cover in the event of a no-deal Brexit  for UK retirees in the EU was met with scorn and derision by representatives of rights group British in Europe.

“It is shameful that people who have contributed all their lives to the National Health Insurance scheme are suddenly stripped of their rights. They have just as much right to expect the same healthcare as anyone living in the UK”, said Delia Dumaresq, a committee member of British in Italy which is part of the umbrella group British in Europe.

“They came to live in the EU, relying on the fact that they could face old age without having to worry about medical bills. Being abandoned by the British government like this has been their worst Brexit nightmare,” added Dumaresq. 

The UK government's offer was designed to compensate for the loss of S1 reciprocal agreements, whereby the UK's National Health System paid EU member states to provide healthcare to EU-based UK nationals.

The UK is seeking to extend the current reciprocal health agreements until the end of 2020 but if the EU doesn't agree then London has offered to fund the healthcare for pensioners for 12 months.

But that depends on EU states agreeing to treat British citizens and then be reimbursed.

Some UK nationals in the EU who have pre-existing conditions could have to pay more than €15,000 per year to obtain a private health insurance that would provide similar healthcare to the currently-active S1 European health scheme. Some Britons in Europe expressed fears that they would struggle to obtain private health insurance.

British in Europe argues that the offer will only help patients who have existing conditions such as cancer or kidney in the short term. failure to continue to obtain medical treatment for at least another year, regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU on March 29th, as currently scheduled, or at a later date if the EU grants a Brexit delay. 

Dumaresq says the offer of health cover for 12 months will not reassure UK retirees who live in the EU and have existing health conditions. “What happens to them when the year is over? People’s lives are literally at stake,” Dumaresq said in the statement. 

On Wednesday Theresa May's government asked the EU to grant a three month extension in order for her to secure a deal, asking for an extension to Article 50 (the period between officially asking to leave and becoming a non-EU state) until June 30th. Article 50 is set to expire at 11pm GMT on March 29th.

The UK government's move is designed to assuage fears but British in Europe says it could be derailed by administration. 
“What is to happen in those countries where the possession of an S1 certificate, which until now entitled them to healthcare and will no longer be valid, is essential for enrollment in their health service?
“And how on earth is this ill-defined scheme to be understood by hard-pressed administrators in surgeries and hospitals over 27 different countries?  And if they do not know how to administer it, is there not a massive risk that they will either refuse treatment or insist that the patient pays?” asks British in Italy. 

Member comments

  1. One of the reasons I paid national insurance was that apart from being forced to it was a guarantee of health care and old age pension that was part of the enforced contract I entered into. I came to live in France having fully paid up my National Insurance contributions being assured of the reciprocal arrangements with France. I may live in France but I am still a British Citizen and having spent my whole working life contributing to Britain I expect to be reciprocally looked after in my old age. I’m happy to live here and I can’t really afford to move back without a considerable drop in living standards
    One year health cover? It’s a pathetic offer and an outrage to citizenship. What can they be thinking of?

  2. I agree. We researched the in’s and out’s of where we should retire to within the EU, before moving to France 9yrs. ago, precisely because it had reciprocal arrangement with the UK, which would ensure our healthcare and pensions would be safe-guarded. 6yrs. after our move, Brexit happens and now, with serious health issues, and having had our Rights swept under the carpet in such an unfeeling and cavalier manner, we are being left to hang out and dry. How can retirees and young families, unless employed by large multinational companies, possibly afford 12,000Euros, EACH for healthcare every year? It seems politicians are looking after EU people in the UK, but their own citizens, living in the EU, come a very poor second. We are being stripped of our future. Those in the ERG and the like are very well insulated from the effects of Brexit and can stand on their principles, lucky them. Unfortunately, most of we retired and younger working families do not have that luxury. We are pensioners, having paid our NI or AVCs for a tranquile retirement. These last 3yrs. have been a nightmare and caused nothing but anxiety and illness. I voted remain, but unless the dreadful Brexit deal is done, we will be up a creek without a paddle, and likely to drown in debt, despite having saved all our lives for a comfortable debt-free retirement, this could very soon count for nothing.

  3. And to rub salt in the wounds, many of us have been disenfranchised thanks to the 15-year rule so can’t even vote to complain.
    As with @Nick-nack and @TrishH above, the UK government’s attitude towards and treatment of expats who have paid their taxes all their lives and have done nothing wrong by moving here for their retirement, is, quite frankly, disgusting and inhumane!

  4. Without S1 medical cover one cannot apply for Carte Sejour (residents permit) Consequently, unless someone states to the contrary, hundreds of thousands of Brits in France/EU will, in effect, be illegal immigrants and risk deportation! Its as serious as it can be.

  5. Listen up: Theresa May and all her other deranged/incompetent Tory conspirators, were very likely all “signed up” and “paid off” by the sicko corps of Libertarian billionaires (American, Brits AND Russians) who want to wreck the EU and the UK, so as to have “delicious” “investment opportunities” to pick up from that wreckage. No one could be as stunningly incompetent as May & company . . . I am now SURE that from day one, they were aiming for exactly the train-wreck OF a Hard Brexit. I am SO sorry for Britain and Britons everywhere.

  6. My wife and I fall right into this healthcare/finance elephant trap.
    I’m going to suggest the UK government (and by proxy the healthcare system) is in breach of contract and will be liable for theft under criminal law.

    My logic: Tax evasion is a crime. We have committed no crime; the UK government has collected money, from us all, under compulsory taxation throughout our working lives.
    This money is specifically ring-fenced to cover our pensions and healthcare.
    The state is not licensed to steal our money.
    The state must be legally compelled to honour it’s contract to fund our pensions and healthcare or answer to the courts.
    Any lawyers out there looking for a case?

  7. Surely this means that the UK expects to finalise health agreements for its citizens living in the EU after Brexit within the next 12 months, and likewise for EU citizens resident in the UK. One must not forget that the latter are just as concerned as we are over this matter.

  8. The National Health Service states that its use is for UK residents. That means that anyone resident in the UK is entitled to free health treatment. In addition visitors to the UK who suddenly become ill or have an accident are also covered (This is not limited to EU nationals). There is a general unwillingness by Doctors or hospitals in the UK to act as accountants, so it appears that the Brits in Europe will be the main losers.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.