‘A big worry’: Why Britons living in Germany still face bureaucratic headaches over Brexit

The rights of Brits living in Germany might be protected under the Brexit deal but that doesn't mean all local officials in Germany are to date and clued up about the rules. Many Britons will still face bureaucratic headaches so here's what to do about it.

'A big worry': Why Britons living in Germany still face bureaucratic headaches over Brexit
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When the German government passed the new law on UK citizens’ rights last November, there was widespread relief for those who had been worried about their right to stay in the country.

An amendment to the existing Freizügigkeitsgesetz (or EU Freedom of Movement Act), the law mandated that British residents in Germany would have the right to live, work and access benefits in the country in much the same way as EU citizens by December 31st 2020.

READ ALSO: Brexit: What changes in Germany from January 2021?

According to citizens’ rights campaign group British in Germany (BiG), however, there’s still widespread confusion among German officials at local Job Centres and Foreigner’s Registration Authorities about what rights UK citizens are entitled to after Brexit.

Over the past few months, the group has received several emails from concerned Brits who were given incorrect and misleading information by civil servants.

Some had been told that their unemployment benefits would be stopped in 2021 if they did not produce a valid residence permit. Others, meanwhile, were told by advisors that they were only entitled to a new residence document if they had been living in Germany for five years or more. 

What’s causing the confusion? 

Part of the confusion is down to the fact that two sets of immigration rules now apply to British citizens. The first is the Aufenthaltsgesetz (the Residence Act for third-country nationals), which applies to new arrivals in the country from the January 1st 2021.  The second is the new law – the amendment to the Freizügigkeitsgesetz – which applies to Brits who move to Germany before the end of 2020.

In contrast to the Aufenthaltsgesetz, this law treats UK citizens as equivalent to EU citizens and allows them to stay in Germany under what’s known as a “declaratory” system.

In plain English, this simply means that rather than having to apply for a visa, those living here before the end of the transition are simply being asked to get in touch with their local Foreigner’s Registration Authority by June 30th 2021 to ‘declare’ their residence in Germany.

If they can prove that they were living here before the cut-off date (December 31st 2020), they’ll receive a residence document confirming their rights – although, unlike with a visa, those rights are not dependent on the document itself. 

“The biggest worry is when local officials, whether in the Foreigner’s Office or other offices, do not understand the rights under the Withdrawal Agreement and say that the rules of the Aufenthaltsgesetz apply,” explained British in Germany’s Matt Bristow.

“This is incorrect as British citizens who are covered by Withdrawal Agreement fall under a different legal framework that broadly speaking gives them rights equivalent to EU citizens.” 

Rows of residency permits (Aufenthaltstitel) on display in Berlin. Photo: DPA

A lack of public awareness

According to BiG, Section 37 of the Withdrawal Agreement obliges EU Member States to publicise the latest information on the rights of UK citizens in the EU in local and national media and through targeted public-awareness campaigns. 

So far, however, there has been no such campaign in Germany – meaning both Brits and the public officials responsible for helping them have often had to deal with piecemeal or incomplete information. 

“To date, we have not seen an awareness-raising campaign through national and local media in Germany,” said Bristow.

“It is clear that there are currently issues in information reaching all local officials and being properly understood. There is of course also the concern that information is not reaching affected British citizens, particularly when many websites both at a local and a national level often are out of date or have limited or incorrect information.”

One such website happens to the website of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit – the Federal Employment Office – which currently offers bare-bones information on the transition period, but nothing on the rights of UK citizens beyond 2020.

British in Germany say they have requested that the information be updated, but so far nothing new has been added to aid both Brits and public officials in understanding the latest rules on citizens’ rights. 

Dealing with misinformed officials

If you’re dealing with confused or misinformed officials at the Job Centre, the first step is to be clear about your rights – and know the right terminology to use with officials.

As Bristow points out, an Aufenthaltstitel (or ‘residence title’) is different from the document that will be issued to Brits, which is formally known as an Aufenthaltsdokument-GB (or ‘GB residence document’) and confers different rights. 

READ ALSO: 'We warned you': Call for urgent action after Brits in EU denied entry

“The important thing to remember and point out to officials is that those covered by the WA have, by law, an automatic residence right in Germany,” he explained.

“They are being asked to notify their Foreigner’s Office by 30th June 2021 of their residence in Germany so they can be issued with a card that documents those rights. But the rights exist regardless of whether or not one has the card – which is different from a residency title or visa where the rights only exist at the point that they are granted said title.”  

If officials are still confused about the new law, it may help to refer them to Section 16 of the Freizügigkeitsgesetz, which clarifies the rights of UK citizens after Brexit, including the right to conduct unlimited economic activity in Germany and the right to claim benefits under the same conditions as EU nationals.

The FAQs page on the website of the Bundesministirium für Arbeit und Soziales – the Ministry for Work and Social Security – may also be a helpful resource for any officials who are unclear on the latest rules.

If you are still facing barriers when trying to access benefits or work in Germany, then get in touch with the British Embassy for advice and assistance. 

The Local contacted the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) but they have not yet commented on the situation.

Continuing the campaign 

Though the fight for citizens’ rights may be at an end, the fight to have these recognised and applied is far from over. 

That’s why British in Germany is encouraging anyone facing Brexit-related problems to share their experiences and personal stories with the campaign group.

“As a small volunteer organisation, we haven’t got the resources to support everyone individually with all the issues that may arise over the coming months,” said Bristow.

“That said, it is really helpful for us though to hear about everyone’s different experiences and this can make a real difference. It allows us to provide information online about the common issues people are facing, as well as lobbying relevant government bodies.”

At present, BiG is compiling information about the implementation of the new law on UK citizens’ rights and on any applications for Germany citizenship. Armed with this evidence, the group says it will work with the British Embassy and Federal and State governments to raise awareness of ongoing problems and highlight areas where officials need to do better.

Member comments

  1. I didnt have had any problems applying for my permanent resident ID after the 5 years residence rule and I only paid 10 euros

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.