Brexit, Health and Social Care: Pain in Spain for those who Leave or Remain?
UK nationals in Europe have been living ‘in limbo’ since 24 June 2016 when the results of the EU referendum became clear. Not only do they have to worry about their jobs, pensions and immigration status, many who depend upon health and social care in their country of residence do not know if they will be able to access this after Brexit.
There are around 1.3 million UK nationals living in other EU countries. Over 300,000 live in Spain, with sizeable numbers also in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. At present, EU reciprocal arrangements allow UK nationals to access the health and social care systems where they live on the same basis as other EU citizens. Post-Brexit, particularly with an increased chance of the UK leaving with no deal, these rights are likely to be lost.
The Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland) Act 2019 has been put in place as part of the Brexit preparations. This allows the UK government to fund UK citizens’ healthcare in Europe under international or bilateral agreements. The finer detail is left to regulations and for the Government to negotiate. The Government has said that if there is a no-deal Brexit, patients who have applied for or commenced treatment by exit day, will be funded by the UK government for one year. It has also said that UK nationals can come back to the UK for treatment on temporary visits, even if not “ordinarily resident” in the UK.
But this will not assist everyone. Many will be concerned that they will not be able to get back to the UK in time if they become ill suddenly after exit day. Amidst concern about healthcare, there has been less assurance about what will happen to social care. Retirees who were attracted to a move abroad because of cheaper housing may find that they cannot now afford to return. If they keep their property abroad or sell it, they may be asked to fund their own social care in the UK. Long-term residence abroad can also affect access to housing assistance and benefits in the UK.
Our Community Care and Education Law team can provide expert advice to those thinking of returning to the UK, and to those who have already returned but are concerned about what services and benefits they can access here. We also work for many clients who have stayed in the EU but are concerned about paying for care and organising services for their elderly or disabled relatives in the UK.
These are uncertain times, and UK nationals in Europe deserve a resolution which means they are not penalised for exercising their freedom of movement when they had no expectation that their rights would change.