Returning Expatriate Couple Pay the Price for Brexit

Brexit has for years been a constant topic of conversation, but some of its potentially serious consequences remain largely unknown outside specialist legal circles. That was certainly so in the case of a retired couple who were perturbed to receive a substantial tax demand after spending 30 years living in France.

The couple, both British citizens, returned to the UK after he retired from his job with a multinational company. They moved into a flat in their daughter's house, settling back into British life. The sale of their home in France was delayed for over four years due to a downturn in the French property market.

In the interim, the couple kept their furniture in the house and let it to tenants. On finally achieving a sale, they moved their furniture back to the UK. By that time, however, the UK had left the EU. On importing the furniture, the couple received an unexpected demand for more than £6,000 in customs duty and VAT.

Ruling on the couple's challenge to that bill, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) expressed considerable sympathy for them. Much of their furniture had been bought in the UK in the first place. They could hardly have done more to market the French property in difficult circumstances and the transfer of their furniture back to Britain had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In dismissing their appeal, however, the FTT noted that their unhappy situation was a direct consequence of Brexit and the end of the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU. They had taken up residence in the UK more than a year prior to the transfer of their furniture; the bill was properly raised and there were no exceptional circumstances that could excuse them from liability.