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BREXIT

Brexit and Spain news roundup: health cover, banking and residency issues

This week we cover problems linked to S1 health cover for Brits in Spain, a Brexit-related banking matter, warnings about submitting fake documents for Spanish residency applications and more.

The fallout from Brexit continues to widen for many British nationals in Spain.
The fallout from Brexit continues to widen for many British nationals in Spain. Photo: daniel_diaz_bardillo/Pixabay

Beware of fake applications and bogus gestores

The British Embassy in Madrid has reminded Britons to make sure they submit the correct information on their Spanish residency applications and to make sure they use legitimate gestores to help them with the process.

“The Spanish authorities have asked us to warn UK Nationals against submitting fraudulent residency applications – either directly or through a third party,” wrote the UK Embassy in a Facebook post.

“They are particularly on the alert for forged healthcare insurance, padrón certificates and lease contracts, as well as people falsely claiming student status.”

The last reported case of a gestoría which specialised in targeting non-EU citizens with the promise of ‘fixing’ any application was in August.

They operated in Madrid, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, Toledo and León, with the leader of the organisation posing as a lawyer specialized in immigration procedures. 

This can be particularly problematic for duped clients who hand over their digital details to the fraudsters, in effect incriminating themselves as police assume they are carrying out the fraud.

READ ALSO: What does a ‘gestor’ do in Spain and why you’ll need one

“Of course, this only applies to a very small minority, but it is a useful reminder that if you are using a gestor, do make sure they are as reputable as possible,” the UK Embassy clarifies, recommending that Brits instead choose from the British Government’s online database of registered gestores or from a personal recommendation you trust. 

Cajamar banks no longer wrongly requesting TIE

For the past few months, one of Spain’s middle-sized banks – Cajamar – has been sending emails to their British customers asking them to show their TIE card or else risk having their account closed. 

This posed a serious problem to British residents in Spain who still hold the old green residency documents which are still valid according to Spanish authorities, even though UK nationals who were residents in Spain before December 31st 2020 are now being strongly encouraged to exchange them for TIEs.

Head of citizen help group Brexpats in Spain Anne Hernández was among those affected. She took it upon herself to clarify to Cajamar’s board that holders of the “Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión Europea” are not obliged to exchange their documents for TIEs.

Hernández told The Local Spain that following her formal complaint Cajamar has since withdrawn this requirement, in light of the official Spanish government document which clearly states that Britons’ pre-Brexit green residency documents must be recognised for travel and other purposes.

The official Spanish government document which proves that Britons' green residency documents are still valid in Spain.
The official Spanish government document which proves that Britons’ green residency documents are still valid in Spain.

Despite the win, it showcases yet again the lack of understanding vis-à-vis Britons’ residency documents in Spain after Brexit (not just for travel) and how their change in status to non-EU citizens can have an impact on the rules their Spanish banks apply, legitimate or not. 

Britons no longer biggest property buyers in Spain 

For the first time since modern records began, Germans have overtaken Britons as the main foreign property buyers in Spain. 

According to Spain’s national property registry, German buyers accounted for 10.42 percent of property purchases in the third quarter of 2021, ahead of British buyers (9.82 percent) and French nationals (7.82 percent). 

In 2010, Britons accounted for 35 percent of the total. 

Brexit may not be the only reason for this slump, but the 90-day limit that applies to non-resident second home owners who used to be able to freely split their time between the UK and Spain and now can’t, is likely having an impact.

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ as UK tabloids claim?

Problems with S1 health cover

The S1 form is essentially proof of entitlement to health cover in Spain for UK state pensioners. It’s funded by the UK government, which reimburses the Spanish health system for the medical costs.

When you have your S1 form from the NHS, you must register it at your local social security office (INSS ) in Spain. The INSS will then give you a social security number and certificate, which you can take to your local health centre and apply for a health card.

As a result of the pandemic, face-to-face applications have not been available across Spain. This has caused a backlog of applications which, added to the confusion surrounding the new rules for Britons as non-EU citizens, have left many British residents of Spain not knowing whether they’ll get Spanish public health cover.

One reader told The Local about the problems she and others have been experiencing in the Torrevieja area of Alicante province when trying to get a Valencian SIP health card. 

“I have been living here for 16 years and have free healthcare from the UK.

“When I reached pension age in April, I applied to the UK for my pensioner’s s1, which took 4 months to arrive in Spain.

“Meanwhile, Spain’s Social Security cut off my current SIP public health card and to renew my SIP card I needed a new up-to-date padrón which took three weeks to obtain, and even then I had to first apply for a digital certificate from town hall so I could get my padron online.

As evidenced, the process is complicated, and carrying it out online isn’t straightforward as is often the case with official matters in Spain, with everything from digital certificates to updated documentation needed. 

“They keep changing the online system, it’s a bit of a nightmare” Anne Hernández of Brexpats in Spain told The Local.

“For example, now the person carrying out the process has to send a selfie in, even if that person is not the UK pensioner applying”.

According to Hernández, face-to-face appointments are slowly opening up across Spain, but this may not be the case for all, many of whom need to ensure they have health cover in Spain as soon as possible. 

“Having acquired all my documents for INSS it was then not possible to go to my social security office so this had to be done again online,” the Torrevieja Briton, who has a severe heart condition, continued. 

“I have received the receipt of documents from INSS but no sign of authorisation for me to use my SIP health card. I have been told this can take up to 4 months!”

“I’ve also been told I have to pay full price for all my medication.”

Another problem relating to the S1 is that “people applying for Spain’s non-lucrative visa cannot use their S1 as proof of their medical insurance”, Hernández explained. 

“You have to have a private insurance.” 

“Some of those people are aged 70 or over 65, they might have a pre-existing condition, they can’t get medical insurance. 

“But after a year of residency they can cancel their private medical insurance and use their S1 rights. I can’t work out why.”

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BREXIT

What is the latest on Gibraltar’s Brexit status?

With 2023 approaching and negotiations between Gibraltar, the UK, EU and Spain dragging on for yet another year, what is the latest on Gibraltar and Brexit? Will they reach a deal before New Year and how could it affect life in Gibraltar and Spain?

What is the latest on Gibraltar's Brexit status?

As British politics tries to move on from Brexit, the tiny British territory at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar, has been stuck in political limbo since the referendum all the way back in 2016.

Gibraltar, which voted in favour of Remain during the referendum by a whopping 96 percent, was not included in the Brexit deal and has instead relied on a framework agreement made between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

After that framework was laid out, it was hoped that the various parties – that is, the Gibraltarian government, Spain, the EU, and the UK – would build on it and quickly find a wider treaty agreement establishing Gibraltar’s place on the European mainland in the post-Brexit world.

It was thought that Gibraltar could enter into a common travel area with the Schengen zone, limiting border controls and essentially creating a custom-made customs arrangement with the EU.

But since then, the negotiation process has stopped and started, with no deal being made and uncertainty dragging on through 2021.

Despite all parties still being relatively optimistic in the spring of 2022, no resolution has been found and 2023 is approaching.

Relying on the framework agreement alone, uncertainty about what exactly the rules are and how they should be implemented have caused confusion and long delays on the border.

The roadblocks

Progress in the multi-faceted negotiations to bash out a treaty and determine Gibraltar’s place in the post-Brexit world have repeatedly stumbled over the same roadblocks.

The main one is the issue of the border. Known in Spain and Gibraltar as La Línea – meaning ‘the line’ in reference to the Spanish town directly across the border, La Línea de la Concepción – the subject of the border and who exactly will patrol it (and on which side) has been a constant sticking point in negotiations.

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in late November 2022. There has been no immediate response from London.

The Gibraltarians refuse to accept Spanish boots on the ground and would prefer the European-wide Frontex border force. The British government feel this would be an impingement on British sovereignty. There’s also been the persistent issues of VAT and corporation tax considerations, as well as the British Navy base and how to police the waters around it.

Though there had been reports that the ongoing British driving license in Spain fiasco had been one of the reasons negotiations had stalled, the British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot categorically denied any connection between the issue of Gibraltar’s Brexit deal and British driving licence recognition earlier in November.

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Deal on UK licences in Spain agreed but still no exchange date

On different pages?

Not only do the long-standing sticking points remain, but it also seems that the various negotiating parties are on slightly different pages with regards to how exactly each seems to think the negotiations are going.

Judging by reports in the Spanish press in recent weeks, it appears that many in Spain may believe the negotiations are wrapping up and a conclusion could be found by New Year. This perception comes largely from comments made by Pascual Navarro, Spain’s State Secretary to the EU. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Navarro claimed that negotiations have advanced so well that they were now only working ‘on the commas’ of the text – that is to say, tidying it up.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”. (Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

“No issue that is blocked,” he said. “All of the text is on the table.” A full treaty, he suggested, could be signed “before the end of the year.”

Yet it seems the Gibraltarians don’t quite see the progress as positively as their neighbours. Last week the Gibraltar government, known as No.6, acknowledged Navarro’s optimism.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”.

No.6 remains positive and hopes for a deal, but in recent weeks has also published technical contingency plans for businesses to prepare for what they are calling a ‘Non-Negotiated Outcome’ – effectively a ‘no-deal’ in normal Brexit jargon.

The UK, however, seem to be somewhere in the middle. Like Navarro, the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently suggested at a House of Commons select committee that only “a relatively small number” of issues remain to be resolved.

However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a non-negotiated outcome. “I think it’s legitimate to look at that [planning for a non-negotiated outcome] as part of our thinking,” Mr Cleverly said. “But obviously we are trying to avoid an NNO.”

Election year

If no deal is found by New Year, that would mean that negotiations drag into 2023 – election years for both Picardo and Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister.

Gibraltar is expected to have elections sometime in the second-half of the year, and Sánchez has to call an election by the end of 2023.

In many ways, Spanish domestic politics has the potential to play a far greater role in Gibraltar’s fate than British politics. In fact, the shadow of Spanish politics looms over these negotiations and the future relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, and the UK and EU.

If Sánchez’s PSOE were to lose the election, which according to the latest polling data is the most probable outcome, then it would be likely that Spain’s centre-right party PP would seek to renegotiate, if not outright reject, any deal made.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

If PP are unable to secure a ruling majority, however, they may well be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox, who have often used nationalist anti-Gibraltar rhetoric as a political weapon. If Vox were to enter into government, which is unlikely but a possibility, it’s safe to say any agreement – if one is even reached before then – would be torn up and the Spanish government would take a much harder line in negotiations.

As the consequences of Brexit churn on in Britain, in Gibraltar uncertainty looms.

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