British citizens in Ireland after Brexit

It looks increasingly likely that a no-deal Brexit will go ahead on 29th March 2019. So what does that mean for the 100,000 British citizens currently living in Ireland?

In Britain much has been made of the need for EU citizens wanting to stay in the UK after Brexit to register for settled status. But there’s no similar arrangement for British citizens to register to stay in their EU country of choice.

It’s little wonder that loads of British people abroad – like me – have been applying for citizenship of the country where they live.

Common Travel Area

Thankfully the situation is much simpler for UK and Irish citizens living in each other’s countries. The Common Travel Area, which predates any EU agreements, guarantees British and Irish people the right to live, work, study, access social security and public services in each other’s countries.

This story from the Irish Times backs up the claim that plans are in place to protect the rights of British people in Ireland. However not every message is so consistent.

The UK Brexit guidance website for citizens living in Ireland seems to cast some doubt on rights being protected. The section on healthcare says, for instance:

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019, your access to healthcare is likely to change.

Living in Ireland – GOV.UK

That doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence that all my rights are being protected! I just hope that the website is out of date, and other information out there is more accurate.

It also doesn’t help that the measures to protect the Common Travel Area are being laid out in a ‘memorandum of understanding‘ between the two governments, which doesn’t sound very legally binding to me:

…a memorandum of understanding between the two countries but also a legally binding international treaty on social security.

…but there are obviously timelines required in terms of the legislation that may be linked to that.  

Irish Times – Rights of Irish in Britain and British in Ireland protected from no-deal Brexit

Changing mortgage at the end of a fixed rate

We took out a fixed-rate mortgage for our home around 3 years ago, and that fixed-rate period is about to come to an end.

If we had done nothing and left the mortgage as it is then it would have transferred automatically from the fixed rate onto the bank’s current variable interest rate, which is higher. We’d have ended up paying about €200 more a month!

Instead we approached Ulster Bank a few months ago to ask them about our options for transferring onto another fixed-rate deal. The process has been somewhat frustrating and slow. The bank seems to obfuscate the process in order to dissuade people from making the effort to move to a better deal.

In order to change our mortgage to another fixed-rate we had to request two things from the bank which were sent out in the post:

  • a list of all current mortgage products, which includes all the fixed and variable rate deals, and a form to select which offer we want to move onto
  • a letter detailing the break-out cost because we are quitting our existing fixed-rate deal a few months early

Moving to another mortgage rate

We received the details from Ulster Bank a few months ago, and when we did our sums there was an obvious advantage for us to change our mortgage to another – cheaper – fixed-rate deal. The break-out fee to get out of our current fixed-rate was less than the savings we could make in a single month by moving.

Unfortunately the Ulster Bank process isn’t communicated well in the correspondence sent out to customers. They don’t actually mention how the break-out fee is to be paid, so we assumed that they would just take it from our current account, or add it to our mortgage balance. But no. You have to phone them (within a set period of time of receiving the break-out offer) and pay the fee over the phone. Only then will they move you onto the new interest rate.

And because we didn’t know we were meant to call the bank to pay the break-out fee, they ignored our written instructions, and didn’t move us to the new cheaper interest rate.

I would have thought that a simple phone call from Ulster Bank saying “We’ve received your application to move to a new fixed rate. Would you like to pay the break-out fee now?” might have moved things along. But instead they chose to do nothing, and our form requesting the reduced interest rate was ignored for more than 2 months – losing us hundreds of euros in potential savings in the process!

When we recently chased it up we were told we’d have to start the process all over again as our break-out fee would have to be recalculated. So we had to wait another week for the paperwork to come, phone Ulster Bank and pay the break-out fee, and then return our form for the new mortgage deal (which they say takes them 5-10 business days to process!).

Was it worth the hassle?

It’s definitely worth switching to a new fixed-rate deal if your current one is about to run out. The interest rates today are lower than they were a few years ago, and you could end up saving a lot on your monthly payments.

All the fixed-rate deals are cheaper than the variable interest rate, so unless you’re planning to pay off your mortgage early (which can incur penalties if you’re in a fixed-rate deal) it’s definitely worth exploring.

Under new regulations the banks are meant to make more of an effort to reach out to customers nearing the end of fixed-rate deals to inform them of their options – but I suspect banks are only going to do the bare minimum on this, as it’s not in their interest to promote their cheapest mortgages to existing customers.

Fisherman’s Friend tin

I was delighted the other day to spot Fisherman’s Friend tins for sale in Berlin’s Tegel airport – so much so that I bought three of them!

I’m a singer and a huge fan of these lozenges, and they’re my first choice of relief when my throat gets sore or tired.

The normal packets often end up falling apart in my coat pocket, because of overuse or they’ve got wet, so I’m delighted to have a more durable container!

Do I look like a Hick?

One of the benefits of having the first name of Richard is that there are so many nicknames and pet-names.

Here’s just a few that I’ve used or been called over the years:

  • Rich
  • Richie
  • Rick
  • Ricko
  • Rickie
  • Ricardo
  • Dick
  • Dickie

However there’s one variant of the name that I’ve not heard before, and that’s the name ‘Hick’. Apparently it’s a valid nickname for Richard, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily have particularly positive connotations surrounding it.

So I wonder if I should start using the name – with the sole purpose of being unique – rather than to promote my unsophisticated provincial ways. There are loads of Richard Bloomfields online, but a quick google search shows that there’s nobody called “Hick Bloomfield”.

What do you think? 

My company reads my secure web traffic

We’ve all been told that we should use websites that encrypt their traffic. We should look for the https:// at the start of the address to make sure the site is secure and give us peace of mind. But what if your company was still monitoring your web use, even though it was secure?

If you work in a medium to large sized organisation, then there’s a fair chance that you access the internet through a proxy service. This is a server that routes (and often restricts) web traffic in such a way to protect the corporate network – and maybe minimise staff wasting half their day on Facebook!

But with encrypted sites (where the URL begins with https://) a lot of people might assume that their employer might know they are visiting a particular site, but not what they are reading, writing or downloading. However that’s not the case.

Increasingly companies are implementing a feature called SSL Interception.

When you visit a site – for example https://securesite.com/ – you would normally assume that the owner of securesite.com is the one hosting the SSL certificate that is used to encrypt the traffic between your browser and the web server.

However with SSL Interception the company’s proxy server generates SSL certificates for the sites that it’s employees visit. So when someone accesses https://securesite.com/ at work, their traffic is being encrypted by an SSL certificate generated by the proxy – and as such, the proxy server can unencrypt the traffic and examine (and log) what’s going back or forth. The proxy then re-encrypts the traffic before passing it out onto the internet to the website.

Most of the time employees don’t even notice the difference because the site still looks secure in their browser. They only find out that it’s happening if a problem occurs with the proxy server’s certificate – either that the company lets it go out of date or it’s wrongly configured – and people start seeing errors in their browser.

The only sure way to tell if SSL Interception is happening is to examine the certificate and see who issued it. You can do this in Chrome by clicking on the padlock symbol to the left of the address bar, and then click on ‘certificate’ on the popup screen.

If the certificate says it is ‘Issued to’ the site you are trying to access then your traffic isn’t being intercepted. But if the certificate says it is ‘Issued to’ someone else – such as your employer – then they are intercepting and reading your web traffic.

And as long as your employer mentions in a computer usage policy or similar that they reserve the right to monitor all web traffic, this is perfectly legal in most parts of the world.

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