British citizens living in the EU remain confused and worried about their post-Brexit healthcare and pension provision, despite the fact that both issues were settled satisfactorily in the withdrawal agreement, a Guardian callout suggests.
More than 100 of over 600 British nationals on the continent, who responded to the callout, cited fears of shrinking pensions and losing the right to medical treatment.
“I am very concerned about healthcare after 2020, which is as far as the UK government is prepared to guarantee cover,” wrote a 78-year-old in Italy. “I also receive a UK state pension which may not increase as it would if we lived there.”
Another in Spain said: “As a pensioner, I’m worried that my healthcare agreement will be rescinded; I could not afford to pay for private health insurance.” A third, aged 67, in France, said: “Nothing seems to have been agreed. We are all really anxious.”
Laura Shields, spokesperson for the lobby group British in Europe, said healthcare and pensions are “actually the two bright spots in the withdrawal agreement. There’s a lot else to worry about, but not those.”
Much of the confusion has arisen because of announcements last year about the rules that would apply in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The signing of the withdrawal agreement, a legally binding international treaty, means these are no longer valid.
In September, the government warned that if the UK left without a deal it would continue to fund the healthcare costs of Britons living abroad – mainly pensioners – who benefit from reciprocal healthcare arrangements for a maximum of six months, or 12 for people with pre-existing conditions.
Similarly, the government said that if no withdrawal agreement was reached with the EU, it could only guarantee that British state pensions paid to people living on the continent would be uprated as they are in the UK until 2023.
“People have been focused on these no-deal arrangements and many are not aware of what’s in the withdrawal agreement,” Shields said. “You can understand their worries – if you are 85, have a terminal illness, and no idea what’s happening next”.
Public uncertainty and concern have not been helped by the fact that some EU states have not updated their Brexit information online to take account of the withdrawal agreement, Shields said.
Under the withdrawal agreement, at the end of the transition period in December 2020, anyone with an existing British S1 reciprocal healthcare form will continue to have their healthcare costs met by the government, as long as they remain legally resident in their host country.
An S1 form will also entitle the holder to a UK European health insurance card for treatment when travelling within the EU. Pensioners living on the continent will also continue to be entitled, under UK law, to free treatment in the UK.
Any British nationals working in their host country and paying into its social security system will continue to be covered for healthcare. The withdrawal agreement also states that British state pensions – and all other benefits paid to non-residents – will be uprated annually during the recipient’s lifetime.
With 80% of the estimated 1.3 million Britons on the continent of working age or younger, the withdrawal agreement’s failure to guarantee continued rights to freedom of movement, cross-border working and cross-border recognition of professional qualifications for Britons was of real concern, Shields said.
“The settlement for healthcare provision and state pensions is actually quite satisfactory,” she said.