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Last year it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.
There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and the government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.
But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.
The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.
There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.
The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.
Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:
“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”
An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.
The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.
The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.
So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name few of the frozen pension states can only get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.