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BREXIT

Brits in EU risk losing UK bank accounts ‘within weeks’

Some of Britain's biggest banks have begun contacting customers in European Union countries, warning them that their accounts will be closed down within weeks because the cost and complexity of operating without a continuation of pan-European banking rules is too much.

Brits in EU risk losing UK bank accounts 'within weeks'
Lloyds Bank expects to close at least 13,000 accounts. Photo: Lloyds Bank
According to a report in The Times, thousands of Britons who live in Europe face being stripped of their UK bank accounts and credit cards, because of the UK government's failure to agree rules for operating after Brexit. 
 
Each of the EU's 27 member states has different rules for cross-border bank accounts which will start to apply immediately the UK's transition period ends on 31st December 2020. 
 
“In some cases, continuing to serve customers would be incredibly complex, extremely expensive and very time-consuming, and simply would not make economic sense,” a source at one British bank told the newspaper. “This is passporting — this is the reality of Brexit.”
 
 
If a way is not found to continue pan-European banking rules, or passporting, UK banks will br breaking the law if they don't apply for new banking licenses in each European Union Country. 
 
 
Lloyds, Britain’s biggest banking group, began writing to customers in August, warning them that their bank accounts would  close down on December 31.
 
The bank estimates that 13,000 customers, including those based in Holland, Slovakia, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal, would lose their accounts. 
 
“If customers have regular deposits into, or payments out of, their account, they will need to make other arrangements before their account is closed,” the bank said. 
 
Barclays and Coutts have also started contacting customers. 
 
“In light of the UK leaving the EU at the end of 2020, we continue to review the services we offer to customers within the European Economic Area (EEA), and any impacted customers will be contacted directly,” Barclays said in a statement. “The timings for account closure will depend on the type of product that a customer holds, but we will always give notice to customers.”
 
“In the event that no alternative to the European Economic Area passporting regime for financial services is agreed between the UK and EU, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from offering our services to clients who reside in the EEA,” Coutts said. 
 

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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