Concerns over effect of BREXIT on expat pensions
By Graham Keysell
This article is published on: 5th July 2016
The decision by UK voters to leave the European Union could have far-reaching consequences for pensioners living abroad.
This is especially the case for those receiving UK state pensions, but who are living in another EU member state.
The main uncertainty is whether state pensions will continue to benefit from annual increases.
As at September 2014 there were 1.24 million people receiving British state pensions but living outside the UK.
Approximately 560,000 expat pensioners live in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, where their state pension is frozen at the amount it was when they left the UK.
Is it going to be the case that British expats living in EU countries such as France or Spain will find themselves in a similar position?
Since 1955, pensions have been paid worldwide, but there was never any mention of annual increases.
However, in the period to 1973, reciprocal arrangements were made between the UK and 30 other countries, which allowed for annual increases to be paid in certain countries. This was seen as making it easier for people to move freely between countries during their working life without suffering penalties in retirement for doing so.
Very few new agreements have been signed since, possibly because the EU rules meant that there was no need for them between EU countries.
Pensioners living in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do get increases, but there is no guarantee that this will continue following Brexit.
Inevitably, the UK government will be tempted to save money by ending the increases to pensioners living in the EU.
It is already estimated that the Treasury saves around half a billion pounds a year from pensioners excluded from the increases. This could easily double if pensioners in the EU were to be treated similarly.
The number of overseas voters still on the UK electoral register is negligible, so the government might decide that upsetting these people would have a very modest negative effect. One result could be that more expats would get themselves back on to the UK electoral register (if it were possible for them to do so).
There is also the question of people who are planning to retire to a EU country in the future. They might show their dissatisfaction at the ballot box.
Another reason for the government might not stop the increases is the possibility of large numbers of pensioners living in the EU finding that they have no choice but to return to the UK
If access to free healthcare in the host country was also abolished, the UK government could easily find that significant numbers of pensioners return to the UK, which is a situation it would want to avoid.
For this reason, it is to be hoped that state pension increases will be paid, and there will almost certainly be considerable pressure on the government to find a way to preserve the existing system.