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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

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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