EU expats face pension freeze

Portrait of an elderly, worried  man with a gray beard and glasses sitting on grass

British pensioners living in Europe are facing the prospect of a dramatic fall in their real incomes following the UK's exit from the EU.

Already, the pound's collapse against the Euro has meant that their money is going a lot less far than it did - and there's no sign of sterling improving any time soon.

"For anyone who relies on an income in the UK and is paid in pounds, but lives somewhere else, a decline in sterling can be disastrous, as their spending power is undermined when the pound falls," says Brian Bruhn-Wolff, wealth manager at Globaleye.

But there may be more hardship to come. During the UK's membership of the EU, the 472,000 British pensioners living in other member states - as well as in Switzerland, Gibraltar and countries within the European Economic Area - are entitled to the same state pension rights as those in the UK.

This includes receiving an annual pension increase under the 'triple lock', which guarantees that state pensions go up in line with inflation, with average earnings or by 2.5%, whichever is the highest.

However, pensioners living outside the EU get no such guarantee. Some countries, such as the US and Barbados, have individual deals with the UK under which pensioners do receive the triple-lock rise.

However, the 550,000 pensioners living outside these areas, including those in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, have their pensions frozen at the rate they receive when they first start claiming.

There's no word on what British pensioners living in the EU should expect post-Brexit. However, unless new deals are struck, a 65-year-old receiving the £155.65 flat rate state pension will lose out on £50,000 in increases over 20 years, says investment firm AJ Bell.

And with the government tightening its belt to offset the costs of Brexit, there's certainly no guarantee that British pensioners living in the EU will continue to receive the triple lock. Indeed, it's worth noting that the UK hasn't signed any such international pension deals since 1982.

"Inevitably, the UK government will be tempted to save money by ending the increases to pensioners living in the EU," says Graham Keysell of financial advisers Spectrum IFA Group.

"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."

He adds: "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."

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