Why the padrón could cause problems for UK second-home owners in Spain post-Brexit

The case of a Briton in Spain who had his UK-plated car impounded and was fined €2,000 for being on the padrón causes doubts over whether non-residents and second-home owners should be encouraged to register at their town hall. Brexpats in Spain head Anne Hernández explores another unforeseen Brexit problem. 

Why the padrón could cause problems for UK second-home owners in Spain post-Brexit
Police officers patrol the border between Spain and Gibraltar at La Línea de la Concepción. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

Until recently I thought I knew what being on the padrón meant.

I don’t want to teach any of your grandmothers how to suck eggs, as the saying goes, but for those of you who are still unsure – what exactly is the padrón?

The definition of padrón isn’t clear

The padrón is not something that exists in the UK and many Brits think it is equivalent to the electoral register (Censo Electoral) which it isn’t; that is a separate registration although to be entitled to vote, you must be on the padrón as well. 

The padrón is described by many local councils as a list of inhabitants and for every person registered on it, they receive funding from central government to spend on their infrastructure, parks and gardens, emergency services, policing, medical centres, education etc.

So it should be a win-win situation because for property owners, at the time of selling, it will mean that their property is located in a more attractive area and can be sold for more money than a property in a poorer, neglected area. 

Now, to call it a list of inhabitants is probably where the confusion lies. 

The dictionary definition of an inhabitant is ‘one that occupies a particular place regularly, routinely, or for a period of time’. 

That, in itself, clearly describes the ‘swallows’, those second-home owners here who are restricted to the 90 days in any 180 days Schengen rule. 

READ ALSO: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Spain and Schengen Area

Some councils interpret the padrón to mean exactly that but others will interpret this as a list of residents and that is quite different. 

Even the legal dictionary definition is not clear as to what a resident is ‘a person who lives in a particular place.’ 

And it goes on to say ‘however, the term is vague depending on the permanence of the occupation; a person coming into a place with intention to establish his domicile or permanent residence, and who in  consequence actually remains there though it be abandoned in a longer, or shorter period.’ As clear as mud then!

READ ALSO: 16 things you should know about Spain’s padrón registration

The problem with the padrón confusion

The true meaning and consequences of being on the padrón have caused me to look further into it given a recent situation that has been brought to my attention. 

A British doctor who has a second home here but does not live here permanently registered on the padrón at the time of buying his property together with his wife, who does live here and has her residencia

He caught the ferry over and drove here at the end of January in his UK-plated car that is registered in his name. 

They decided to take a day trip to Gibraltar and, upon leaving, were pulled over by the Spanish authorities, who, after checking his passport, came back to him three hours later and said the car was going to be impounded at La Línea because he is on the padrón. 

He argued that he is not a resident and showed his outbound and return ferry tickets as proof of his time to be spent in Spain which is well within his permitted 90 days.

Regardless, the car was impounded and he was told to return the next day, Friday, at 2pm to retrieve the vehicle. 

Seeing as the only reason given to him was because he was on the padrón, the next morning he went to his local council and de-registered from the padrón.

He was worried that he might also be stopped on the 100-km drive back after collecting his vehicle.

Vehicles queue at La Línea de la Concepción at the border between Spain and Gibraltar. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

After a stressful three-hour journey by public transport, the next day he checked in at 2pm hoping to collect his car but no, they said they hadn’t time to deal with him and for him to return on Monday. 

On Monday he repeated the journey only to be told that they hadn’t had time to process the fine of which, until then, he knew nothing. 

The fine was for €2,000 plus the cost of daily storage at the pound because, according to them, by being on the padrón he was considered a resident and therefore not able to own a non-Spanish plated vehicle.

Some councils give discounts (IBI, admission to attractions, domestic travel, over 65s socials etc) to those on the padrón and we know that in order to do certain things in Spain you need a padrón (getting married, registering a child in school, registering a Spanish-plated vehicle, applying for residencia etc)

Most councils understandably encourage us to go on the padrón and, given the benefits to us, without question, we have been happy to oblige.

However, it would seem that we then become quasi-residents and should comply with the legal obligations as a resident. 

So, back to the previous example of the unfortunate British non-resident doctor and this is where it becomes a rather grey area.

It is illegal for a resident here to possess, for example, a UK-plated vehicle for more than 30 days from when they become a resident before re-registering the vehicle onto Spanish plates.

However, a non-resident is able to purchase and register a Spanish-plated vehicle but only if on the padrón. 

Incidentally, a foreign-plated car owned by a non-EU non-resident can be kept in Spain provided that it is only used for up to six months in a calendar year and that it remains road-legal in its country of registration with a valid MOT (ITV in Spain)

But it must be ‘sealed’ (precintado) by customs during periods of absence from Spain.

Until the Brexit transition period ended in January 2021, when the owner of a UK-registered car could demonstrate via a ferry or tunnel ticket that the vehicle arrived in Spain during 2020, no duties or IVA would be levied.

This also applied if the owner gained residency within the last 12 months or was in the process of doing so. 

Anyone wishing to import a vehicle into Spain must be a permanent resident, own property in Spain or have a rental agreement for a minimum period of one year and hold a Spanish driving licence.

Conclusions and lingering questions

Since the padrón certificate is needed to attach to an application for a residencia, are we allowed to drive our UK-plated vehicle until such a time as we get our residencia (in some areas it’s taking anything up to 12 months)?

Or does ‘from when becoming a resident’ refer to the date we registered on the padrón?

Is Spain therefore encouraging us to break the law? 

And, if by just being on the padrón we are deemed to need to follow the obligations of a resident, why are we having to go down the route of applying for residencias and expensive visas etc? 

Why are some residency applications being refused if they are not accompanied by a current and sometimes even historic padrón if until the time of becoming a resident we are not supposed to even register on the padrón?

I am still trying to get clarification on this and I hope to be able to update you all soon.

But as a cautionary word of warning, check out what your obligations might be before registering on the padrón if you are not yet a full-time resident here.

Or if you are a second home owner registered on the padrón check your rights before bringing your UK-plated vehicle into Spain.


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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.