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FEATURE

What changes about life in Spain in April 2021

The month of April 2021 in Spain brings with it changes to Covid measures, high expectations for the vaccine campaign, tax deadlines and different rates for electricity bills, among other changes. Here's what you need to know.

What changes about life in Spain in April 2021
Photo: ANDER GULLENEA, JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK, CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Facemasks on in ALL public places 

The Spanish government on Tuesday March 30th passed a decree which will require people to wear face masks outdoors in all public settings, including beaches, swimming pools and in nature where in some regions it was previously not necessary. 

So April will be the first full month where all of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants, and the tourists that visit the country, have to keep on their mask technically even while sunbathing alone on a deserted beach or trekking through a quiet forest. 

Needless to say it’s a controversial move by Spanish authorities which you can learn more about here

High expectations for Spain’s vaccine rollout

Spain’s Health Ministry is eyeing April as the month when the country’s vaccine strategy will and has to take off, especially if it wants to boost its ailing economy and save its tourism industry. 

Spanish authorities will receive more than five million Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses over the course of April, added to the one million extra doses of the German and American inoculations it was sent on Monday March 29th.

Following the temporary suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine for a week in March over fears they were linked to blood clot incidences (so far been ruled out  by the European Medicine Agency), Spain’s Health Ministry on Tuesday 30th decided to start offering this inoculation to people over the age of 65

April will also see the first Janssen vaccines arrive in Spain – 1.3 million doses – which are expected to be administered to people aged 66 and over from mid-April.

Spain has upped its daily vaccine rollout to an average of 200,000 administered doses per day, but the inoculation machine will have to be even more effective if the country wants to achieve its immunisation targets by the summer. 

So far, 7.7 million Covid vaccine doses have been administered in Spain since the campaign began in late December. Five million people – 10.8 percent of the population – have received at least one dose. Only 5.8 percent of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants have received the full vaccination. 

Lots of important tax stuff, especially for self-employed

April 7th marks the start of Spain’s 2020-2021 income tax campaign, when online presentations open. 

You can find out more about the important tax dates to watch out for this year here and what changes have been introduced as a result of the coronavirus crisis here

Self-employed people in Spain have until April 20th to submit their income tax withholding declaration and VAT self-assessment (la declaración de retenciones de IRPF y la autoliquidación del IVA).Photo: Lukas Bieri/Pixabay

Usually these are forms 111 (declaración trimestral retenciones de personal y profesionales) and 115 (declaración trimestral retenciones de alquileres).

Autónomos may also have to submit modelo 303 for their quarterly VAT assessment, modelo 349 for the tax return of intra-community transactions, modelo 130 if they are taxed on direct estimation or modelo 131 if they are taxed on objective estimation or modules.The deadline for these is also April 20th. 

If all this seems like too much to handle, it may be time you enlist the help of a Spanish gestor to help you navigate Spain’s complex bureaucracy. 

A quiet Easter, but will it be a quiet month too?

If you’re based in Spain you probably know this already, but as a reminder, crossing regional borders to go on Easter holidays in another part of Spain is not allowed if you’re a local or foreign resident in Spain. 

The major processions that usually dominate Holy Week in Spain, especially in Andalusia, have all been cancelled, although masses will be held and some smaller processions (pasos) will be allowed to take place but with a limited public.  

Semana Santa officially ends on Sunday April 4th but depending on the epidemiological situation across Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, it could be that some regional borders are kept closed for longer during the month of April. 

The Valencia region for example doesn’t intend to lift its regional border closure until May 9th, so there can be no going out of the region until then unless you can justify one of accepted exceptions. 

It’s fair to say that inter-regional travel is likely to be generally put on ice for the near future in Spain, especially as the country’s fortnightly infection rate has been crawling up in the past week from 128 cases per 100,000 people to currently around 149 cases per 100,000. 

Tourism authorities will want to make sure they can ‘save the summer’, by preventing or mitigating the effects of a fourth wave ahead of the financially crucial summer tourism period. 

It’s spring fruit and veg time in Spain 

There may not be a lot to look forward to with life’s current uncertainty, but eating healthily and well is always a plus of life in Spain. 

With the arrival of spring comes also the harvest of typical primavera (spring) fruits and vegetables in Spain, with abundance likely to drive down prices.  

April is a good month to buy cherries, oranges, avocados as well as chard, artichokes, celery, asparagus, peas and endives. 

Photo: Couleur/Pixabay

Travel to Spain from outside EU not possible in April 

On Monday March 29th, Spain extended its restrictions on non-essential journeys from countries outside the EU and Schengen Area until April 30th.

That means travellers from countries outside of the Schengen Area will not be able to make non-essential journeys to Spain by land, air or sea over the Easter period and throughout the month of April.

However, travellers from some countries with low infection rates will be able to make the journey, including those from Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, China (subject to reciprocity) and the regions of Hong Kong and Macao, as there are Schengen-wide agreements allowing for this.

It’s worth noting that the extensions of restrictions do not apply to Gibraltar, given the fact that they have vaccinated almost all their population against Covid-19. Restrictions on non-essential travel from Gibraltar to Spain will be lifted at 6pm on March 30th.

Changes to Spanish electricity bills 

On April 1st, the Spanish government will introduce changes to how electricity bills are calculated, namely its discrimación horaria, Spain’s electrical hourly discrimation rule. 

Knowing what time electricity is cheapest can save users up to €70 euros a year, according to Spanish consumer group OCU. 

The main change is that there will be three time slots with different rates each:

  • Peaktime (the most expensive) : in the morning between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and in the afternoon / evening between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
  • Flat rate(somewhat cheaper) : in the morning, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., in the afternoon from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and at night from 10:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • Off-peak rate (the cheapest) : from 0:00 am to 8:00 am.

If you are in the PVPC regulated price mode, the new periods of time discrimination will automatically be applied to your contracted rate. 

The PVPC is the Voluntary Small Consumer Price, the system that the Spanish government has to establish an hourly rate for electricity.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for a discount on your Spanish electricity bill

The rain in Spain 

The first half of April will be somewhat rainier than normal for the time of year and temperatures will be the usual in the mainland and the Canary Islands, while in the Balearic Islands weather site Eltiempo.es is forecasting warmer weather than normal for this month. 

April is usually a very rainy month in the north of Spain , especially in Galicia, the Cantabrian Sea, Navarra and the north of Huesca. No wonder the Spanish saying goes ‘en abril, agua es mil’ (in April water is a thousand).

By contrast, the driest areas are usually Murcia, Almería and the Canary Islands.

Eltiempo.es is also predicting there will be a lot of dust in suspension over large swathes of Spain and the Canaries in Easter, known as calima, a nuisance for people with breathing difficulties and allergies.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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