So what has Europe ever done for you?

The debate about the EU has centred on immigration, however being in the union is also about rights — even if most of us are unaware of what these are. Linda Whitney and Niki Chesworth offer some enlightenment

 

A cap on mobile roaming charges

Thanks to the EU Roaming Regulation, in force since 2007, when you travel across Europe your mobile phone bill is much lower. The maximum an operator can charge is €0.24 (roughly 20p) a minute for outgoing calls, €0.7 for incoming calls and €0.8 for texts (less than 7p) and €0.45 (37p) a megabyte for online data. Rates will drop further from July 2014.

The limits apply automatically unless you have opted for a specific service or package. The volume of data you can download is also capped at €50 (roughly £41), unless you have an agreement with your operator, and you are warned when you reach 80 per cent of your limit.

British student Cemre Senol, 20, was relieved to hear that an EU-wide cap on mobile roaming charges means he cannot accidentally run up big bills while abroad. “Once I was charged £180 for a mobile phone call I received while I was abroad,” he says. “The phone was on my mum’s account and she was furious. The EU cap means I won’t worry about the charges so much and I may not bother getting a new SIM card for each country when I travel.”

Compensation and food when flights are delayed or cancelled

This is a right very few of us realise we have. If your flight is delayed, cancelled or you are “bumped” because of overbooking you may be able to claim up to €600 (roughly £490), yet only 2 per cent of people who can claim do so.

EU Regulation 261/2004 gives you a right to compensation, reimbursement or re-routing and “care” such as food or accommodation while delayed, if you arrive at your destination more than three hours late. It applies to all flights leaving or arriving at an EU airport with an EU airline.

Compensation depends on the distance and length of delay and claims can be backdated for up to six years.

Antony and Samantha Goldman from Muswell Hill, their children Zak, 14, Daisy, 12, and her friend Gracie Bolt, 12, were delayed by over three hours on a flight back from Malta last year. “The airline did not apologise and when I wrote to ask for compensation it refused — even after I wrote to the chief executive,” says Antony’. He researched his rights on the net and called in flight delay compensation specialists Bott Aviation. The airline settled out of court, and the group received £178 each.

“It was not about the money — I just wanted them to recognise our rights,” adds Antony, who says he will vote in the May EU election. “One of the fringe benefits of the EU is that it holds companies to account.”

If you have suffered a similar delay check if you can claim at bottonline.co.uk/aviation/flight-compensation-claims-form

 

The right to study in Europe — possibly for free

As an EU citizen you can study at any EU university — and could save thousands of pounds in fees.

In Denmark tuition is free, while in Holland fees are about £1,500 a year. The UK does not fund fees at overseas universities but if you are liable to pay full tuition fees in the UK, it could be cheaper to study in another EU state.

Oliver Mackie, 20, is studying veterinary medicine at Szent Istvan University in Hungary. “I knew I had a right to study in the EU,” he says, “so as well as applying for UK universities I researched those abroad. I found out more from QS (qsnetwork.com), a company that runs worldwide university information events, which helped.

“The fees are lower than in the UK and so is the cost of living. It doesn’t make me feel any more European, but you meet people from all over the world so it develops you as a person. More people should know about their rights to study in the EU.”

As an EU student you also have the right to live in any EU country for the duration of your studies if you are enrolled in an approved educational establishment, have sufficient income to live without income support and have comprehensive health insurance cover there.

 

The right to state healthcare

While this is a right many of us are aware of, it is important to check that you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and that it has not expired (it is free to renew at ehic.org.uk or from 0300 330 1350). The card allows you access to the same state-provided healthcare, at the same cost, as people insured in other EU countries (and a few more).

Barbara Badland used her EHIC when she was hospitalised with a burst appendix while on holiday on Bulgaria. “We knew about the scheme and took our cards,” she says. “My husband showed mine to the hospital and we did not have to pay for the operation or the week in hospital — just dressings, personal items and food, as Bulgarians do. It made me grateful for the EU-wide system of emergency care,” adds Barbara, 53, from Peterborough, who considers herself European as her mother was German.

Provided your medical attention is state-funded, you may pay nothing, or just reduced upfront costs (which you can claim back later). EHIC is not a replacement for private insurance but many insurers will waive the excess on claims for medical treatment if you have shown your EHIC, and some policies will not pay out on claims that could have been free if an EHIC had been used. So check before you travel.

 

The right to retire in Europe

A retirement home in the sun is a dream for many Brits, and is a right that has been taken advantage of by those who have chosen to spend their golden years in Spain and France.

Kevin Buckley is one of them and is soon to receive his UK state pension despite having lived in San Cayetano, Spain, for four years.

Kevin, 64, now a Spanish resident, says: “When I’m 65 I will get my UK state pension, and qualify for my own Spanish social security card. At present I can use the Spanish state health services based on my wife Beverley’s card, because she is working here.”

Kevin has had free eye tests in a Spanish state hospital, gets GP services free and also subsidised prescriptions at rates lower than in the UK.

“We researched our rights before we moved here,” he says. “I discovered I can still vote in UK elections for 15 years, as well as Euro elections. I don’t feel so much European as British, though we live in a Spanish community.”

The British government will pay your state retirement pension to any country but in the EU it will still be index-linked, as it is in the UK (which is not always the case elsewhere).

Under regulations designed to coordinate EU social security systems, EU citizens are able to access many rights such as state healthcare, invalidity benefits and maternity services on the same basis as nationals of the EU country they are in, though some rights may depend on you registering as a resident.

 

Shoppers’ rights to compensation and refunds

With internet shopping becoming increasingly popular, EU consumer rights are now something that all of us need to know about. For example, if an item you bought from an EU country does not look or work as advertised, the seller must repair or replace it free of charge, or give you a refund — as Peter Emery discovered.

Peter, who builds and races slot cars as a hobby, bought a resin Ferrari body from a manufacturer in France. The first order did not arrive and the replacement arrived broken. “I asked for a refund of my €93, but the manufacturer repeatedly delayed, argued and refused to send the full amount,” said Peter, 62, from Eynsham, Oxfordshire.

Peter did not know about his EU consumer rights but an online search for EU consumer organisations revealed the European Consumer Centre (ukecc.net) which handles cross-border EU consumer problems. “They were easy to deal with and got me my refund,” said Peter. “Things like this show the value of EU citizenship.”

EU consumer rights, set out in Directives 1999/44/EC and 97/7/EC also include a two-year guarantee from the date of purchase or delivery and the right to cancel purchase of non-faulty goods within seven days — soon to be extended to 14.

 

The right to trade across borders

The UK has a growing army of small businesses and people venturing out as self-employed. Being part of the EU gives us a much larger market to tap into — and a level playing field.

Jonathan Meare, 45, an inventor and director of jdmdesigns who launched the beach towel clip — an idea that came to him in Ibiza when his towel kept blowing away — says: “I received innovation vouchers, which come from European Funding, and registered my design in Europe, which covers the UK too. It was not expensive and was simple and straightforward. This is a EU benefit that many people might not realise they have.

“I also got help to launch in Europe from UK Trade & Investment, which was important as the beach season in the UK is quite short and I needed to make this a 12-month product. I have found that trading in Europe is as easy as the UK — in fact, I do not look at Europe as being foreign or overseas. The same rules apply, the majority of people I have contact with speak English, there is no problem with time zones and I am now selling in 27 countries. In fact, it is sometimes cheaper to send products to Europe than to parts of the UK.”

 

The right to work and vote across the EU

UK Citizens have the right to work across the EU— and vote in EU elections. However, the same applies to those from other EU states who chose to live and work here.

Sietske De Groot, a small business adviser, has been living in the UK since 2007. “I have made ample use of the right to live and work in another EU country,” she says. “Some people are afraid this right may result in too much migration to the UK. However, people forget they can move around too and, for example, retire in places with better weather than in the UK.

“I have always admired the UK labour market. It is open and flexible, and offers many opportunities for those with ambitions. Especially in London, which is the most vibrant city in Europe.

“Moving between countries made me more aware of my rights as an EU citizen. If you leave your country, you don’t have to say goodbye to your rights. For example, I can vote in the local and European elections in the country I live in. In London, I voted twice in local elections and once in the mayoral elections. Next May I will vote in the European elections. It is easy to do: just register with your council on the electoral roll.

“I find it very important that I can vote here as it allows me to have a say in things that matter where I actually live. I want to encourage everybody, including my British friends abroad, to do the same, and go to the polls in May. A lot of people don’t know they can vote here, or forget about voting all together when moving out of their country. But it is important their voices are heard too.”

Mobile savings: Cemre Senol

Trading places: Jonathan Meare

Retiring type: Kevin Buckley

Shopping rights: Peter Emery

Using her vote: Sietske De Grooy

JOIN THE DEBATE AND HAVE YOUR SAY

Got an opinion about the EU? Then make it count. You can have a say and influence opinion by tweeting, posting and voting. To join in the EU Cititzens’ Dialogue event on February 10 in London and help shape the future of Europe either:

 

Join the debate on citizens’ rights by taking our reader survey on Europe HERE.

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