DOZENS of British expats in Spain are being told they can’t exchange their driving licences and will have to take a Spanish test because their residency wasn’t approved before December 31.

British residents in Spain were assured they had six months leeway to exchange their driving licences due to a backlog of applications and lack of appointments available at both DGT offices and extranjerias as the Brexit deadline approached.

The issue arose with Brexit for those Brits who hadn’t succeeded in completing their residency process before the end of the Withdrawal Period on December 31.

They were informed by both Spanish authorities and the British Embassy that as long as those living in Spain had registered intent to exchange their licences by December 31 using a special process that they could complete the application once they had residency granted by securing an appointment before June 30.

But one reader got in touch with the Olive Press to report that they had their application to exchange their driving licence rejected because their new TIE (foreigners residency card) hadn’t been issued before December 31.

“I went through the process to register my intent in November because there weren’t any DGT appointments available to do the exchange before the end of year deadline,” explained Martin Brown, 58, who lives with his wife Pauline, in Abanilla, Murcia.

“My residency application was made at the same time and I received confirmation that it was accepted on January 13 and made an appointment with the DGT on March 16.”

But Brown was appalled when a month later he received notification by registered mail from the DGT’s Elche office in Alicante that his application had been rejected because his residency status was not dated prior to December 31.

The letter informed him that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the clause allowing exchange of driving licences didn’t apply to him as he only became a legal resident after January 1 and was therefore considered a third country national.

“It’s shocking because we did absolutely everything we were supposed to do. We started the applications in plenty of time in November and followed all the instructions we were given,” he insisted. “There was supposed to be a six month grace period.”

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Martin and Pauline Brown in happier times.

“It’s quite a blow, because if we can’t drive legally then we are stuck as there is only one bus a day in our town,” he said. “This experience has tainted our view of Spain and we might have to consider going home.”

The Olive Press has since learnt that dozens of Brits face the same fate. Lindsay Baxter, the gestor who helped the Browns with their residency and DGT applications said she had at least 20 clients who had also been knocked back for the same reason.

“It absolutely goes against what we were told about the six months to get all the paperwork in order,” she said.

“That’s just me in one small town and I know a lot of other gestors in the region are dealing with the same thing. There are dozens of people facing this setback.”

Brown’s rejection is being appealed with a lawyer taking the case to the courts.

“It could be a landmark case if the DGT is found to be breaking the law with these rejections, but it may take some time and in the meantime people are panicking about having to take a Spanish driving test,” said Baxter.

Anne Hernandez of Brexpats in Spain, an organistation which helps expats deal with the fall out of Brexit, said she was aware that the issue was affecting people in Alicante and Murcia region although similar applications were being processed in Malaga.

“Enough people have come forward to complain about this for us to see it as a problem,” she confirmed to the Olive Press.

“Once again it’s a case of different offices seeming to have different rules. We have raised the issue with both the Spanish government and the British Embassy and they are talking about it but there is no resolution as yet,” Hernandez told the Olive Press.

Under current rules, UK nationals who are Spanish residents will be allowed to drive in Spain with a valid UK driving licence until June 30 2021 by which point they should have exchanged their licences (if they were resident here before the end of 2020) or pass a Spanish driving test. 

In March, a senior British diplomat told the Olive Press that negotiations were underway for a future agreement that would remove the need for UK licence holders resident in Spain to take a practical test.

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