Long before the referendum last June, we took the decision that we would like to live in France officially. In other words, that we wanted to be able to spend most of our time there instead of sharing our time more equally between France and the UK, and to do it formally, so that we weren’t looking over our shoulder all the time, so that we could rest easy in our bed.
After a bit of dithering, we made the first step which was to get a document from the UK Pensions Dept. called an S1, which you can only get once you have moved to another EU country. Under current arrangements this would enable me, as a UK pensioner, and Nick as my spouse, to apply for full access to the French health system rather than just emergency care as a visitor. This comes in the form of a card called a Carte Vitale. Once we have that we can then move our tax affairs to France and the job’s done. Plenty of people told us this would be a long and difficult process and that dealing with French bureaucracy is a nightmare.
So, on 25th October we had an appointment at the social security office in Tours to make our application for my Carte Vitale. We took with us every document we thought we might possibly need, including birth certificates and an EDF bill. The young lady copied lots of them, declined others and created a dossier which would be sent with my application form to Nantes where it is all dealt with centrally, and told me I would get a paper version of my Carte Vitale, the French health card, in three weeks’ time. The actual card would arrive a few weeks later.
Easy, we thought. What was all the fuss about?
Weeks came and went and nothing arrived. Then, a letter arrived dated 27th December – a full two months after our appointment – saying they needed copies of certain documents and not only that but official translations of other documents done by approved translators to go with my dossier. We would not have received this letter at all but for the kindness of friends who had volunteered to check our French post box occasionally and forward stuff on to us here in the UK where we are now stuck until Nick completes his rehabilitation following his heart attack last month.
The really frustrating thing is that we had all those documents with us when we attended in October. The young woman who dealt with us either didn’t know what she was doing, or didn’t care enough to get it right. If she had pointed out the need for translations we could have got on with it and be two months further on than we are now. I am tempted to wonder how a person can be doing a front desk job where he/she is dealing with the public in a process where he/she should know what the rules are and the person in front of them is entirely dependant on them getting it right - and yet get it so wrong. Training perhaps.
So we are trying to work out how to get this done while we’re treading water in the UK rather than wait another two months before we return to France and can pick up the paper trail again.
The equally frustrating part is that in order to get my S1 and apply for my Carte Vitale I was required to tell the UK pensions people I had moved to France. Which is absolutely fine but has resulted in my not receiving my UK Pensioners Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 as they ceased paying it to ex-pats this winter BUT they have sent me a letter (to France as that is where, as far as they are concerned, I now live) and a form called a Life Certificate which has to be filled in and certified by a solicitor (or a similar professional and will no doubt cost me more than a few quid) stating that I am still alive so that they will continue to pay me my UK pension.
So on the one hand I have moved to France but on the other I haven’t. Yet. I’m probably floating around somewhere in the English Channel. All at sea is certainly how it seems at the moment.
It’s interesting that the UK pensions people seem to be much more on the ball than the French. The UK system for letting me go seems much more efficient than the French process for letting me in.
Of course, we wouldn’t normally be in such a hurry but we feel that post referendum we have a window of opportunity to make this choice before “Brexit” (how I hate that ridiculous term) kicks in. Not that anybody seems to know what the effect will be once it does kick in. Blind leading the blind doesn’t begin to describe it.
So here we are in limbo, out of pocket already and immersed in the quagmire of French bureaucracy. Everyone warned us that it wouldn’t be easy. Some of them are the same people who warned us that when in Barcelona best not to let go of your bag. Hey ho.