On 31st January 2020, the UK left the EU. However, the real effects of Brexit, for those of us living in France, will not properly be felt until after the 31st December 2020 (what an interesting New Year’s Eve that will be!) and thereafter. Hopefully, by that time we will have a clearer idea of what our rights and responsibilities are. Until then there will still be much speculation and media noise, which may be just as confusing as it has been over the past four years.
One thing Brexit has established, from the very beginning, is that British citizens living in France, or planning to settle in France, need to get their affairs in order and decide where they would like to live for the foreseeable future. As British citizens we can always return to the UK if we so choose, but if we want to continue to live in France we must show that we have lived here continuously for the last five years or that we intend to continue living here in future.
The next few months are going to be very interesting and it is more than ever important for British citizens to consider some important financial changes.
Pensions after Brexit
In 2006, the UK introduced a law making it possible for UK private pension benefits to be transferred to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS), provided that the overseas scheme meets certain qualifying conditions.
For those pensions that can be transferred there are many benefits including:
- No obligation to purchase an insurance company annuity, at any time
- The potential to pass on the member’s remaining pension assets to nominated beneficiaries on death with minimal or no death duty payable. By comparison, currently a tax charge at the beneficiary’s marginal rate can be applied in the UK, where the member is over age 75 at death
- A wider choice of acceptable investments offered, compared to UK pension plans
- The underlying investments and income payments can be denominated in a choice of currencies, which can potentially reduce exchange rate risk
- Potential to receive a larger amount of Pension Commencement Lump Sum compared to UK schemes
- Depending upon the jurisdiction where the QROPS is set up, income payments may be made without the deduction of local taxes, meaning that income will only be taxed in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction where the member is resident
In 2017 the UK government announced its intention to introduce a new 25% Overseas Transfer Charge (OTC) on QROPS transfers taking place on or after 9th March 2017. This charge does not, however, apply where the QROPS is in the European Union (EU) or EEA and the member is also resident in an EU or EEA country (not necessarily the same EU or EEA country) and remains EU or EEA resident for the next five full UK tax years.
Many of those who work in the industry believe that after the transition period, it may no longer be possible for British citizens to transfer their pensions into an EU QROPS without incurring the 25% charge.
QROPS may not be suitable for everyone and much will depend upon the nature of the UK pension benefits being considered for transfer, as well as the person’s attitude to investment risk. Transferring a pension to a QROPS is not a decision that should be taken lightly nor in haste and proper financial advice with an experienced adviser is essential. Even when the decision has been made to transfer the pension it may take a good few months to complete, which is why, if you are even considering this possibility, it is important to contact a local adviser to explore what your options are.
Taxes after Brexit
As tax between the UK and France is determined by the Double Tax Treaty, this will not be affected by the fact that the UK has left the EU. However, whilst not directly taxed, a lot of UK income, such as UK rental income, is added to the taxable base and increases the tax margin of the French taxpayer. If you intend to live in France, you may want to consider whether it is really in your interest to hold onto UK assets.
It is possible to protect your capital investments in France and ensure that they can grow in a tax efficient environment by way of an Assurance Vie policy. French Assurance Vies or French approved foreign Assurance Vies offer valuable benefits when it comes to income tax, inheritance tax and estate planning. Foreign portfolios and bonds are not treated as Assurance Vies and any gain is subject to tax and social charges irrespective of whether this income is taken or whether it is brought into France. If you are French tax resident, you are taxable on your worldwide income in France. Proving that you are French tax resident will be an important factor for establishing the Right to Remain in France.
Being resident in France does not necessarily mean that all your assets have to be in France or have to be in euros. There are many opportunities for holding sterling based diversified portfolios in a tax efficient manner.
For anyone intending to live in France for the foreseeable future, be aware that today’s valuable financial planning opportunities are unlikely to remain beyond the short term (31st December 2020 could be an important date in this respect). Contact me, Katriona Murray, and I will be happy to arrange a meeting.