A group campaigning for the rights of Britons in Spain after Brexit has called for urgent action from the authorities as "hundreds" of British nationals are set to be rejected as new Spanish residents.
Brexpats in Spain claim there have been misunderstandings over the start dates of applicants' private health policies. The problem is particularly evident in Malaga and Alicante provinces.
The Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK gave favorable conditions to those Britons resident by 31 December last year. As well as being on the local town hall padrón and showing proof of a minimum amount of money to live on, new residents were required to show insurance in Spain that gives protection against ill health at least equivalent to the level of cover of the public health services.
Many needed a private policy
For those either working in Spain or who have a UK State Pension, the right to public healthcare is automatic. Other British residency applicants have had to take out equivalent private insurance polices and it is the start date of those documents that is now causing problems for many.
The terms of the Withdrawal Agreement say that this healthcare cover needed to be valid from when the British national started living in Spain as a resident.
According to Brexpats in Spain, there could be hundreds of Britons caught out as their private policies were only dated to start from 1 January 2021, once the transition period after Brexit ended, instead of starting on a date up to 31 December 2020.
Although those being rejected on this basis can appeal an immigration official's decision, it is feared that only a rule change can solve the problem, as healthcare insurance companies cannot now backdate policies to comply.
Despite the problem emerging in Malaga and Alicante, Brexpats in Spain and lawyers acting for Britons caught in the date-trap claim that immigration officials in other provinces, for example Valencia and A Coruña, are accepting private health policies that started on 1 January.
Anne Hernández, spokesperson for Brexpats in Spain, said the inconsistency is "another obstacle" in a complex process made even more difficult in December due to travel restrictions linked to Covid-19, leaving some applicants trapped in the UK after returning for Christmas visits.
Hernández said she had been in touch with the British Embassy to see if they could find a solution with the Spanish authorities. "If not, many people will have to return [to Britain]," she explained.
An Embassy spokesperson told SUR this week, "All UK nationals who were lawfully resident before 1 January 2021 are able to stay and will be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. The British Embassy and consular network remain in close touch with the relevant Spanish authorities on the implementation [...] and, in particular, the new residence process in Spain."
The Embassy's statement continued, "We are aware that some UK Nationals have had their applications rejected on the basis of not having their policy in place by the end of the Transition Period and are in contact with the Spanish authorities on this issue."
Right of appeal
"Residency decisions are a matter for the Spanish authorities, but any UK National whose application is rejected has the right to appeal the decision following the process set out by the Spanish authorities," it explained.
The Spanish government's office in Malaga was not optimistic about any change and sources told SUR it was unaware of contact from the UK Embassy, adding that rules on healthcare cover were "clear". "[A policy] had to be taken out at the time of joining the padrón municipal census; if that wasn't done, it is not the [Spanish] government's fault, but rather the responsibility of those who didn't read the instructions properly or take good advice," the source said.