Friday, November 07, 2008

A holiday in France - who is paying?

In these turbulent times on the world stock markets, where the individual is also feeling the squeeze, I thought that I should write a little about the differences between what is happening here and in the UK.

The perception for many UK citizens is that we are rich people living on a permanent holiday with no mortgages and no heating costs here in southern France. The reality is very different.

If we take heating as a starter, you will find that it gets very cold here, even in the Dordogne. There are long hot summers and nice sunny days in the winter, but at night it often gets down to minus 10 to 12 here. That is cold. Our house does not have central heating and we would not want it due to the cost of running it and the environmental damage that it causes. We have a large wood burner which used a non fossil fuel – wood. This keeps the house at a reasonable temperature, but we still feel the cold in the winter.

Many of us live here on a limited pension, normally sourced from the UK. That means that we are dependant on the £ to euro exchange rate, which has not been too good for us over the last couple of years. It is possible to live here on £8000 per year, we have done it for the past four years, but we do have to watch what we spend.

Many British ex-pats are feeling the pinch at the moment. I know of some people who have visitors from the UK and now insist that those visitors hire a car at the airport when the come for a holiday. It can get quite expensive collecting visitors from the airport and driving them around for a week or two. I have managed to cover 400 miles in a week before now, just taking people around. During those weeks, the hosts tend to take people around to see the local sights and eat in the local restaurants, and they cannot always afford to pay the entrance fee to visit the local caves, which they have seen many times before. Neither do they want to eat a lavish local meal with visitors when they pay their half of the meal as it is much cheaper to eat at home.

I also know of another couple who have family and friends visiting on a regular basis, but have found that the cost of feeding them and the cost of electricity and laundry is just a little too much. They now ask visitors to donate 10 euros per person per night towards their upkeep. Don't forget this is much cheaper than the cost of a B&B at 50 or 60 euros per night.

Is this fair? In the eyes of the holiday makers, probably no, but most of the holiday makers live in the UK and are earning in excess of £30,000 per year. I discussed this with someone last year and their answer was that they had a mortgage to pay. I don't understand why they expect their hosts to subsidise their holiday because they have no mortgage.

The other thing that is not understood is the UK winter fuel payment to pensioners. If you live in the UK and receive a state pension then you get a payout of a few hundred pounds every year to help with heating costs. If you have received this once in the UK and then move out of the country, you will continue to receive it wherever you are. If you move just before you receive your state pension then you will never get it despite having paid into the UK system all of your life. Some of use with military pensions have no choice but to pay UK tax on that pension, yet we will never be eligible for a winter fuel payment. As I said further up the page, it can be much colder here than the UK!