I have had several queries over the last few months about the tax treatment of UK pensions in France, whether they are being received as a regular income or where clients have or are about to take a one-off lump sum to pay for a large purchase. Many of the queries were relating to the completion of French tax returns, but we are also seeing a large number of queries where advice is being sought on French tax treatment of pensions prior to a move to France.
UK pensions and tax treatment in France
So, in this article, I am going to go back to the basics and go through the different types of UK pension scheme and their tax treatment in France for French tax residents.
UK State Pension
As a French resident, the UK State Pension is taxable in France (not the UK) and where an S1 is held, no French social charges are payable. It is important to note that the UK State Pension can be paid directly into a French bank account, in euros, although the amount will obviously fluctuate due to exchange rates.
UK government pensions are dealt with under the UK/France double tax treaty and apply to those who have previously worked in the Armed Forces, Civil Service, Fire Service, Local Authority, NHS (with exceptions), Police and Teaching amongst others. A full list is available at www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/international-manual/intm343040 to help you identify if your pension is classified as ‘government’.
Under the double tax treaty, UK government pensions are taxed at source in the UK. The pension income still has to be declared in your French tax return, but a 100% tax credit is given so that the same tax is not paid twice. It is important to note, that such pension payments are taken into account to calculate your overall income and could have the effect of increasing the rate at which other sources of income are taxed.
Qualifying government pensions are exempt from social charges.
Private pensions (occupational, stakeholder, SIPP)
Pension payments received from UK private pensions are taxable in France (not the UK) if you are French resident and again, where an S1 is held, the payments are exempt from social charges.
Annuities are more complex and advice needs to be sought to establish the type of annuity held, as annuities can be interpreted as investment income in France rather than pension income.
Amongst other allowances relating to pension income, there is a general 10% tax abatement on pension income (with the exception of qualifying UK government pensions) with a minimum of €394 and a ceiling of €3,858 (applicable to 2020 tax returns and subject to change). The allowance is per taxpayer, although the ceiling stated is per fiscal household.
The allowance only relates to tax and not social charges, where applicable.
Lump sum pension payments are an area for discussion in another article. Other than qualifying UK government pension lump sums, such payments (including UK tax free lump sums) are taxable in France.
I would always strongly recommend that you speak to a France based qualified adviser, familiar with UK pensions, before any firm decision is made to take a lump sum payment.
Are you a French tax resident who owns a house in the UK?
UK Property Matters
I thought I would write this month about the topic I am asked most frequently about at the moment by clients and prospective clients, which is the subject of owning property in the UK as a French tax resident.
There are many reasons for deciding to keep properties in the UK when moving to France. Whether it be a ‘bolt hole’ to go back to for those that frequently return to the UK for family or work, or as an investment to generate rental income to supplement retirement.
There are several potential French and UK tax consequences to consider, when owning property in the UK, which I will cover in general terms by each specific tax area.
Wealth tax in France is called Impôt sur la Fortune Immobilière (IFI). The assets that are taxable under IFI are all worldwide real estate and investments in real estate which includes, amongst others, the main home as well as second homes. Business property assets are exempted subject to certain conditions.
The tax is triggered by eligible net property wealth of more than €1.3 million. For UK expatriates living in France, foreign assets are exempt from wealth tax for the first 5 years.
Capital Gains Tax (CGT)
As a French tax resident selling property in the UK, you are liable to CGT both in the UK and in France.
Since 2015, the UK has applied CGT on the sale of property of former residents noting that private residence relief, if applicable, is available for the final 9 months of ownership. It is only the gain from April 2015 that is taxable and the normal tax free allowance (currently £12,570) also applies.
French CGT and social charges are applicable in France on the sale of a UK property and are based on duration of ownership. Some exemptions do apply, for example when the property was the principal residence in the previous 12 months, although certain conditions apply.
Under the UK/France double tax treaty, UK expatriates can receive a credit in France for any UK CGT paid on the sale of the UK property, but they cannot offset any UK CGT paid against a social charge payment.
UK Property Rental Income
Rental income from a UK property, when resident in France, still requires the completion of a UK tax return.
As a result of the UK/France double tax treaty, income tax and social charges are not payable in France. However, it is important to note that this income is still declarable in France and is taken into account when establishing the tax bands applicable for all other declarable income.
Inheritance Tax on a Property Held in the UK
The subject of French inheritance tax is a complex subject that could justify an article in its own right, but in general terms, under the UK/French Double Tax Treaty on inheritance tax, the UK property would fall under UK inheritance rules and applicable taxes.
In summary, owning property in the UK has potential tax consequences in both the UK and France and as with all such matters, I would recommend that you seek the advice of a suitable expert in all circumstances.
UK pensions and investments after BREXIT
After several years of uncertainty, the UK has now fully left the EU and whilst many of us understand exactly what that mean in terms of French residency requirements, the impact on the financial services world is only just starting to unfold.
We asked Andrea Glover, International Financial Adviser at The Spectrum IFA Group, for her thoughts on the matter and to provide guidance to those of you who are affected.
Andrea explained “Brexit ended automatic ‘passporting’ rights for UK financial services in the EU. So, if you either live in France or are looking to move to France, it is important to check that, if you have a UK financial adviser and/or UK insurer, that they can still support you.”
Andrea commented “For those of you living in France, contact your UK financial adviser if they have not already been in touch and ask if they are still able to provide financial advice to you as a French resident. Also, ask your UK insurer if they have put in place measures to ensure that your policy or pension can continue to be serviced. Your insurer or financial adviser should always act in your best interests. It is also important to note that in the case of a dispute with your insurer or financial adviser that you might not be able to refer the problem to an ombudsman or court in France.”
Andrea continued “My advice would always be to seek advice about the rules, from a French tax perspective, for any pensions and investments held in the UK and check that anyone offering you advice, or financial services, is authorised to do so in France. Further, a suitably qualified financial adviser who is based in France will undoubtedly have first-hand experience of living in France and therefore have greater empathy with their clients.”
Andrea went onto say “Giving advice on UK held investments and pensions is only one component of comprehensive financial planning. A qualified financial adviser will also be able to provide guidance on matters such as Inheritance Tax planning in France and look at alternative tax efficient investment vehicles such as an Assurance Vie.”
For those of you looking to move to France Andrea explained further “Moving to France as a UK citizen is obviously more onerous than previously in terms of residency. I believe this places even greater importance on seeking suitable financial advice before any firm plans to move are finalised.”
From her own experience, Andrea commented “We are receiving a number of enquiries from people looking to move to France, which is firstly encouraging but secondly it means that we can really help clients structure their financial affairs efficiently before they move. We quite often work in partnership with international tax lawyers to assist clients who, for example, have a business in the UK but want to run it from France. Having a clear and defined plan, after seeking advice from the suitable experts, prior to any move to France, is undoubtedly beneficial and avoids any nasty surprises further down the line.”
*This article first appeared in The Local Buzz
Top 3 Financial questions after BREXIT
We asked Andrea Glover & Tony Delvalle – What are the current top three ‘hot topics’ with clients, particularly affecting retirees?
UK State Pensions
Andrea commented, “The withdrawal of the UK from the EU has obviously been an area of concern regarding UK State pensions. Now the Withdrawal Agreement has come into force, it is reassuring that those covered by the agreement will continue to benefit from aggregation of periods worked in the UK and EU, and those not yet retired will have the same benefits as current claimants.”
Tony went on to say, “UK State Pensions will be uprated every year whilst residing in France. This will happen even if you start claiming your pension after 1 January 2021, as long as you meet qualifying conditions.”
Many people coming to live in France often decide not to sell their UK home, instead renting the property out to supplement their pension income. Tony explained, “We are frequently asked if this is sensible as a form of investment. Whilst there is often an emotional tie to a former home, or perhaps a client wants to keep the option of returning to their UK home, there can be punitive tax consequences to such a decision, should they then decide to sell the property as a French tax resident.”
Tony continued, “The sale of a UK property has to be declared in both the UK and France. Although under the UK/France double tax treaty you receive a credit in France for any UK tax paid, French residents can also pay social charges on gains arising on the disposal of a UK property. There are also new rules effective from April 2020 in the UK, making such a decision even less attractive.”
Andrea summarised by saying “It really is important to speak to a Financial Adviser, particularly if you haven’t yet made the final move to France. Dependent on personal circumstances, it may be more beneficial to sell their property and invest in a more tax efficient investment vehicle such as an Assurance Vie.”
Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS)
Tony told us that many of their clients have taken advantage of a
QROPS, which enables consolidation of UK pension policies and which has attractive tax and inheritance tax advantages for French tax residents. QROPS can also offer multi-currency flexibility.
Andrea commented, “Many clients currently considering moving their pensions are querying if there are to be any changes in QROPS legislation, in view of Brexit. Our stance on this is that we believe it is highly likely that the UK Government will, after the transition period, impose a 25% tax charge on future transfers to a QROPS, making them less desirable. So, although they may not be suitable for everyone, don’t risk leaving it too late or you may face the 25% charge.”
Investing for the long term
The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on our daily lives, but for many readers there is also an impact on their pension and investment funds due to extreme volatility in the financial markets and global economic disruption.
We asked Andrea Glover and Tony Delvalle from The Spectrum IFA Group about their thoughts on the current market conditions and the general reaction that they have seen from their own clients.
Andrea explained, “Financial markets don’t like bad news; the current coronavirus outbreak and the oil crisis that reared its head in early March are unfortunately no exception to that rule. We are all aware of the impact such events have on stock markets and although downturns are not unusual, they can be very unsettling. In these situations, it can be natural to consider taking some sort of action, but at times like this, often the best plan is to do nothing at all – particularly when you are investing for the longer term.”
Tony explained further, “It’s important to take a long term view when investing. An investment plan established during more settled times should not be abandoned when there is a market downturn. We keep up to date with the fund managers who are monitoring the markets to ensure the investments are protected as best they can be and grow over the longer term. In times like these, they focus on valuations, investment processes and look to buy more assets at attractive prices and with the appropriate risk for clients.”
Andrea went onto say, “No-one can say for sure how long this downturn will last, as we also have the US presidential elections and the end of the BREXIT transition period to come. We would be naive not to expect some further twists and turns in the short term, but we can look at what’s happened before when faced with global economic, social and political challenges. History tells us that the global stock markets weathered all of these well, with markets recovering over the longer term.”
Tony commented, “We have made sure that we have contacted every one of our clients during this time, to talk through the impact of the current situation. There has been a mixed reaction ranging from clients with further funds wanting to invest, in what they see as an opportune time, to other clients cancelling regular withdrawals so as not to compound any short-term losses. Each client has individual needs, aspirations and attitude to risk and it’s our role to understand this from the outset, as it is fundamental to the advice that we give.
Andrea summarised, “As our clients invest over the longer term, we enjoy long term relationships with them and they have really appreciated the contact, as obviously communication is key in a time like this. It can really help clients through this unsettling period when, understandably, some will be nervous about their pensions and investments. It’s our fundamental responsibility to support our clients through this bumpy ride, providing them with the information and reassurance that they need. ”
Andrea and Tony are fully operational, working from home and are available for calls and video conference during the confinement period.