British citizens who spend time living overseas then return to their motherland are penalised and disadvantaged on their return, says re-immigrant Naomi Madelin.
Credit ratings that have returned to zero, the inability to open a proper bank account, demands for huge deposits for rent payments, mobile phone contracts and no one offering advice on how the UK works are some of their criticisms.
After a decade living in New Zealand, Naomi and James Madelin decided to bring their Kiwi-born family, and successful entrepreneurial business back to the UK to be nearer ageing family and their main customer base.
“When you’ve been gone for a decade you really feel like a stranger, but everyone assumes you understand how everything works,” Naomi explains. “With a huge re-immigration move like that, small children to care for, a new home to find, schools – not to mention a business to keep going so you keep your income – you just don’t think about going to the CAB or somewhere to say ‘Hey – I’m new here, tell me what I need to know.”
The couple says that UK Trade and Industry were keen for them to bring the business home, and offered to help.
“They were pretty much useless,” the couple agree. Affiliates in Auckland helped them to fast-track British passports for their children, but once in the UK they found any offered assistance pointless. “They offered to do stuff for us that we could easily do. It was the hard stuff over the next year or so that was difficult, and that no one seemed able to help us with.”
The family settled in Bristol, attracted by its more laid-back atmosphere, creative and entrepreneurial scene and easy access to the great outdoors.
“The problems started before we got back when I discovered that we couldn’t apply for a school place without a UK address in the right area,” says Naomi. She travelled to the UK with their two under-fives in June 2012 to find a place to live and try to secure a school place for their eldest. “I made a snap decision on a flat close to the school we wanted – house hunting in the summer with two jet-lagged children in tow was exhausting.” But they were told they would have to pay six months rent up front. “I was horrified. That was when I first discovered that my UK credit rating had been completely wiped out. I’d worked in the UK since my teens, had a good career through my twenties and a mortgage. Now I couldn’t so much as a get a store card.”
“We didn’t have six months’ rent available. It costs a lot of money to move from New Zealand…” Luckily the landlord of the flat also lived overseas and was understanding – Naomi managed to negotiate down to three months in advance.
Then she went to get a UK phone contract and was made to pay £150 as a ‘security deposit’, which EE said they would have to keep for two years.
“I felt so unwelcome in my own country. As though we were being punished for having been away. I just wanted to turn around and go back to NZ. I was refused for a joint account at the bank with my husband. One bank said they could give us an account as though we were new immigrants with no history in the UK at all and that was the best they could do.”
Two and a half years later , just as their credit ratings were back on track at last, the Madelins had yet another blow. No one had told them that they could claim Child Support for their two children, and they had missed out on around £2000.
“It cost us a small fortune to move back here. Relocating the business was agony – we had loads of poor advice, some dreadful accountants who mucked everything up so it had to be completely re-done. It’s not as if we really moved much business-wise. All our operations around the world stayed exactly the same, no product moved, no warehouses changed…We just had to do admin – close an NZ business and open the same thing in the UK. I can’t begin to tell you the stress, and the impact on our cashflow. Child Benefit would have been incredibly helpful. But no one at UKTI mentioned it. Or anywhere else. There isn’t a process for UK citizens who’ve lived overseas for a long time. No one helps you.”
Naomi has a few pieces of advice for those emigrating for the first time, and for those re-immigrating to the UK:
1/ Assume you know nothing! If you’re like us, your life is very different now to how it was when you left. We didn’t have children, or our own business back then. Your needs are different, and things have changed in the place you’re returning to as well.
2/ Keep a UK bank account when you’re overseas, and use it as much as you can – like when you come back to the UK for visits. It helps to keep your credit rating at least a bit better. If you can keep and use a UK credit card, even better.
2/ Ask your bank to share your information with credit agencies. Incredibly they may not do this automatically. It’s vital that they share your information or how can you get a credit rating?! You may need to talk to someone fairly high up in your bank before you find someone who knows what you’re talking about.
3/ Engage with other ex-pats who’ve moved around the world a lot – they’ve been there, done that and will have good advice.
4/ The problems you’ll face will be larger the longer you’ve been away. Plan! Have extra savings set aside for unexpected occurrences (like rent down-payments etc), and remember that you will feel more like a stranger than you expect.
5/ Be a stranger! Go to Citizens’ Advice and explain that you’re essentially new in the country – what do you need to know. They might find it a bit odd, but when you explain that you’ve been away a long time and are feeling confused and displaced, they will help you.
Featured image thanks to Pixaby.