surinenglish

Costa council campaigns to convince foreign residents to join the census

Oti García (second right) with her team at the Foreign Residents office in Marbella's Palacio de Congresos centre.
Oti García (second right) with her team at the Foreign Residents office in Marbella's Palacio de Congresos centre. / G.Berner
  • Marbella is conducting an elaborate awareness drive, with the goal of registering around 60,000 undocumented foreigners

Local councils on the Costa del Sol are well aware that large numbers of foreign residents still haven't found their way to their local Oficina de Empadronamiento to join the population census or Padrón. Some citizens, especially from EU countries, suspect that the local council might submit their data to the Spanish taxman, and therefore prefer not to register officially at their Spanish residence.

According to Oti García, the head of the Department for Foreign Residents at Marbella town hall, which was relocated to the local conference centre this summer, the fear of having to pay more taxes as a registered resident is totally unfounded.

"The register is a purely local institution whose data can neither be accessed by private individuals nor by other authorities such as the tax authorities. Information will only be revealed in the context of a police investigation. Anyone who owns a home in Marbella pays his or her property tax (IBI) and the fees for street cleaning and garbage collection, but not for being registered," García summarises, adding that this has recently been legally enforced.

García does not hold a political office, but is an employee of the town hall. For years she worked on the side of the tourism office, but she now manages the Department for Foreign Residents which was separated from the general Tourism Department in the middle of this year.

Convincing foreigners of the need to be registered on the town hall's Padrón is one of García's most important goals and, of course, the current campaign is particularly close to her heart.

"Marbella officially has about 150,000 inhabitants, although the local tax levies lead to the conclusion that around 250,000 people live here all year round or part-time. So we have to get the unreported 100,000 registered in order to claim the per capita donations from the state treasury," says the director of the office.

Without these grants, the town will not be able to provide the necessary infrastructure and services, which could ultimately lead to a reduction in the quality of life, she explains.

According to estimates from the town hall, 60 per cent of Marbella's residents who are not registered as such are Europeans. Most of them live in Nueva Andalucía and Las Chapas. That's why the latest campaign focuses on these districts.

"Officially recognising where you live is a civic duty, even though [not doing so] is not punished," García explains and confirms that the current campaign has started very well.

It is certainly also being well received, thanks to the involvement of a group of foreign residents who have been living in Marbella for years and who have apparently touched exactly the right nerve of their fellow citizens.

"This group is the perfect link between all foreign residents and the town of Marbella," García emphasises.

Regarding the British community, García says: "Incidentally, the fear of Brexit has not led to a decline. On the contrary, we are seeing more new arrivals this year, and many British citizens are determined to settle here. This is also shown by the increased number of registrations, but we still need many more."

The campaign is visible everywhere. There are 25 information boxes and flyers and posters spread over the municipality. All of them attract attention with eye-catching pictures and catchy slogans to encourage registration.

"A small action - a great reward," is one of the messages, alongside the image of a smiling firefighter bursting with energy.

"Acting in time," says a handsome police officer on another poster, while another reads, "An even safer town."

Common to all posters is the slogan "Sign up", and residents are informed of how many new inscriptions are needed to obtain additional government funding for services or infrastructure.

"With 2,400 new registrations, the central government can finance another garbage truck, 1,000 will give us an additional firefighter, and with 3,800 we will be able to hire eight more people to join the cleaning team for one year," concludes Oti García.

She adds that registered foreigners have access to all kinds of free courses and activities, including excursions, language classes, translation services or sports, as well as benefiting from discounts. As from January 2019, all officially registered inhabitants will be entitled to free travel on the local town bus service.

There is still another very important argument, points out García: every registered EU foreigner is entitled to have a say in the municipal elections or even to stand for election and have the chance to help determine the future of the town.

"Whatever the result of Brexit, I am very confident that our British citizens will be eligible to participate in the municipal elections next year. There is a strong will at all levels to negotiate this particular goal," García says.