The move to digitisation for many Social Security procedures made during the pandemic has inadvertently excluded people from receiving the assistance they need and has placed security guards in the unenviable position of having to explain to citizens that the offices are closed to the public unless they have a prior appointment.
An appointment can be obtained via the internet or telephone, but the phone lines are reportedly always busy and not everyone, especially older people, have the tech skills or equipment needed to book an appointment online.
At the National Institute of Social Security in Malaga, Carmen Martínez, a pensioner who has just changed her address, has been trying to get an appointment for two weeks.
"I've been through it all. The phone number they gave me to call is always busy. Then there was the internet address to make an appointment, but I couldn't do it with my mobile. Health centres are being criticised a lot, but my doctor has already seen me many times in person,” she said.
The security guards say they are acting as informal points of information. But some people are frustrated when they cannot access the help they need.
“In January we had to call the police six times. They have delegated the responsibility to us. They are normalising that everything is done online but there are many people who do not know and come to us. It's normal now, we're the only people they see. I know that this is not my function but I see helpless people and I try to help them,” one security guard explained.
A few metres away is the office of the General Treasury of the Social Security surrounded by a metal fence. Again, security guards are trying to help people by explaining how to access services online.
Jesús Muñoz, the owner of Tecnocopia, a nearby copy shop, said, “This is happening every day. The security guards attend to people. People get frustrated because they don't feel cared for.
“Officials come and go. They are going to have breakfast. They return with bags from Corte Inglés or Cortefiel. Some enter through the back door,” he added.