Recent enquiries received by Foreign Office staff in Spain include a request for Phil Collins’ telephone number, whilst a man asked staff to contact his dominatrix after she had left him stranded at the airport

THE Foreign Office is today reminding British travellers of the role of its global network of Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates as staff continue to be approached for weather forecasts and ticket bookings.

Jeremy Browne, Minister for Consular Affairs, said: “We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to the support that we can provide.  It is important that people understand the level of help we can offer.  Our priority is to help people in real difficulty abroad and we cannot do this if our time is diverted by people trying to use us as a concierge service.  We need to be able to focus primarily on helping victims of serious crimes, supporting people who have been detained or assisting people who have lost a loved one abroad.”

Other enquiries received by Foreign Office staff include:

  • A man rang the Consulate in Sydney to find out what clothes he should pack for his holiday
  • A Brit in Sofia asked the Consulate if they could sell his house for him
  • A man called the Consulate in Florida to report that there were ants in his holiday villa and asked for advice on what he should do
  • A lady complained to the Embassy in Moscow about a loud buzzing noise in her apartment – she wanted someone to visit her flat and advise the authorities to stop the noise
  • A caller in Spain wondered what shoe size Prince Charles wears so they could send him a pair of shoes as a present
  • A man asked a Consulate in Greece for information on how to go about putting a chicken coop in his garden
  • A man asked Consular staff in Dubai to meet his dog on arrival at customs and help the dog through the customs process, as he would be on holiday when the dog arrived
  • A caller asked staff in Malaga in mid-September where she could get a Christmas lunch as everywhere she had phoned was already booked up
  • Staff in Greece were asked for tips on the best fishing spots and where to purchase good bait

The Foreign Office set up the Iberia Contact Centre in Malaga earlier this year to cope with the volume of non-consular enquiries received by British Embassies and Consulates in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Andorra.  The centre filters calls so that Consular staff can focus their resources on situations where they can provide assistance.

Maria Leng, Consular official in Tenerife said:

“A lot of our time was being taken up with queries that we could not assist with but now the Malaga call centre is making a big difference by filtering enquiries.  We can issue emergency travel documents or visit you in hospital but we can’t pick you up from the airport or make private arrangements.”

See the number of enquiries British Consulates around the world received in one day in June:

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  1. ……so what are we paying these clown chappies for – if not to help us out in the dire hour of need ?

    Some loving words and much needed advise goes a long way and doesn’t cost too much ….

    Took me all of 3 minutes to answer these inquiries… and I am not even specially trained like those flojos.

  2. I think the consulate do a worthwhile job for people in trouble, but sometimes the other people need some help too.
    I think more information about the tax issues would be helpful to lots of expats living here. I live on a UK civil service pension that means I MUST pay tax in the UK. That is my only source of income. I know of others in the same position or are living on UK state pension alone. It would be good if some agreement could be made with the Spanish tax department instead of all of us having to spend money on tax advisors.

  3. Horn Blower – Helping people out in dire need is precisely what the consulates are here to do. This is the point we want to make. The role of consulates is to assist British nationals overseas, particularly in distressing situations. It is harder do to do that if the time of consular staff is taken up by enquiries which would be better directed elsewhere. Consulates in Spain dealt with nearly five thousand cases last year, more than in any other country in the world. Of those cases, over half of them involved deaths or hospitalisations and there were over 50 cases of rape or sexual assault. We need to maximise the time that our staff have to help British nationals in genuine distress, and that means encouraging the public to use other sources to answer more general enquiries that are unrelated to the work we do.

  4. Clive Smith – We have a Pensions, Benefits and Healthcare Team within the Consular network in Spain. We’ll make sure they get your feedback. In the meantime, you may want to take a look at our website which has advice for people claiming UK pensions in Spain:

    Our consulates also hold regular open days where residents have a chance to meet representatives from the Consulates and get more information and advice about a range of issues. More information on those is also available on our website:

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