Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Broke and ill: Spanish idyll sours for ageing British expats
(Richard Pohle/The Times)
Shirley Schofield, 77, near her home in Fuengirola, may return to the UK after her pension almost halved in value

Graham Keeley in Málaga

Wilhermina Bickerton moved with her husband Edward from Surrey to Marbella seven years ago to look after her frail mother.

It seemed like an ideal way to while away their twilight years but they have come to regret the move because of the falling value of sterling and by not qualifying for important benefits.

“People might think it is easy over here but in our case it was a mistake to come, as you lose a lot,” she said.

Her story is typical of thousands of retired Britons who yearned for a new life in the Spanish sun after tiring of the weather at home.

Charities, expatriate groups and diplomats in Spain now report that thousands are struggling to cope.

Chris Bryant, the Consular Minister, will visit Madrid this week to announce a package of help for the estimated 300,000 British pensioners in Spain. However, aid agencies fear that it may not be enough.

They say that the ageing expatriate population, hit by the falling Spanish property market that left them with “dream homes” they cannot sell, also face insufficient healthcare resources.

Many of the retired people on the costas never bothered to learn Spanish so do not register with the local authorities. Instead, many depend on UK benefits but are not entitled to the same level of care as in Britain.

Some, such as winter fuel allowance, are not paid in Spain and, as expatriate EU citizens, they are entitled only to primary healthcare.

Though the Spanish health system boasts an international reputation, aftercare is largely the responsibility of the extended family.

Private health insurance or residential care can prove too expensive for those struggling on state pensions.

Those without family depend on the kindness of friends or even live off charity food hampers, say charities.

For the Bickertons, the fall in the value of the pound meant that their British state and private pensions fell from ¤3,000 a month to about ¤2,200. Mrs Bickerton’s mother, Pastora Cromack, 95, claims a British pension of ¤556 a month. But they do not qualify for UK benefits such as attendance and carer allowances for Mrs Cromack, which would have given them the equivalent of another £400 a month.

“My mother will have to go into a care home soon but that is ¤100 a day,” Mrs Bickerton said. “We have no social life as it costs us ¤60 to pay a carer to look after my mother.”

Shirley Schofield, 77, is facing the prospect of returning to Britain after 36 years in Spain because she cannot afford to live there.

The widow, originally from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, had the value of her British pension fall from about ¤800 to ¤440 per month, while the rent on her flat in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol is ¤575 a month. “I can’t survive like this,” she said. “It was all right when I could work, but now I cannot.”

Charles Betty, the president of the charity Age Care Association, said: “It is bad and it’s going to get worse.”

Age Care reports scores of expatriates calling to ask for money-saving tips while Age Concern said that it had 50 needy cases on its books in Majorca alone.

Mr Bryant is to announce that the number of care workers for British pensioners in Spain will rise to 100 and that a new partnership with Age Concern will help expatriates. Despite the charities’ concerns, the UK Department for Work and Pensions said that 90,000 more people claimed British pensions last year in Spain.

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