Page last updated at 17:20 GMT, Sunday, 1 March 2009

Weak Sterling income sends ex-pats packing

By Richard Westcott
Reporter, BBC News, Malaga

Paul and Doreen Phillips on why they are having to leave Malaga

Paul and Doreen Phillips are packing up boxes in their living room.

"We thought we were here for the rest of our lives," Mr Phillips says.

Five years ago, after a lifetime of hard graft, they retired to Malaga on the Spanish coast because the strong pound meant their pension went further, and because it is nice and sunny of course.

Now they are being forced home.

"The pound fell through the floor," says Mrs Phillips. "It's just too expensive to live here now."

The Phillips' pension is paid in sterling.

That was fine when you could get 1.3 euros for 1.

Moving back

These days, you barely get one euro per pound, so for anyone relying on money from the UK, costs on the Costas have rocketed.

We wanted to live the dream
Doreen Phillips

Mr and Mrs Phillips' rent has gone from 330 to 500 pounds in just three months.

Their tax bill has gone up 400 a year. An 8 meal is suddenly 12.

When living the dream started to eat into their savings they decided it was time to move back to the UK.

Going sour

They feel lucky to have the choice.

"Several of our friends want to return home, but they have bought houses out here and they are in a trap," says Mr Phillips.

"They can't sell, which is a tragedy."

Malaga airport
Going to the airport to return home can be hard

The Spanish housing market is even worse than in Britain.

Prices have plummeted, hardly anything is selling.

For many the Spanish love affair has gone a bit sour, with the falling pound and a rise in the cost of living across Spain.

"All our volunteers report an increasing number of people asking for help," says Charles Betty who helps run Age Care Association, a local charity set up by and for British ex-pats.

The British government has also set up help clinics to advise worried pensioners.

Still happy

Back in their flat, enjoying a beer and looking at the sea view one last time, Mr Phillips cannot resist a joke with his wife.

"I even sorted somewhere to scatter my ashes," he quips.

"It's a good job you didn't because you'd have had sweep them up and bring them back home."

The sun is shining, obviously, and I am telling them how Britain is in lock-down because of the snow.

Even so they are not feeling sorry for themselves.

They are excited at the prospect of a new home in Carlisle and a new grandchild, who will be close by.

"We wanted to live the dream," says Mrs Phillips.

"We've had a wonderful time.

"I've never fallen out of love with England, I've always loved England".

Someone who is not so excited is Minty, the Spanish cat they rescued from a life on the streets.

She is asleep on the sofa, next to her new passport. She has probably never seen snow.

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