THE OLIVE PRESS is launching a campaign to demand a U-turn in draconian new rules stopping thousands of British expats from driving in Spain.
We have been sparked into action after hearing dozens of horror stories involving long-term residents around the country.
Most were shunted into the hard shoulder after receiving poor advice from lawyers and gestors.
They include pensioners, who have lived here for decades, employees of blue chip companies and even British lawyers, who were unable to get clear advice.
The Olive Press’ very own salesperson Tina Brace has also become a victim, despite living here for 24 years.
“A combination of Spain’s infamous bureaucracy and impenetrable laws has left far too many people prejudiced,” said Olive Press editor Jon Clarke.
“We intend to put pressure on the powers that be in both the UK and Spain to try and get this rule changed.”
The problem came about after years of discussions regarding the right for British expats to swap their licences over to Spanish ones.
Brits living in Spain have always been legally obliged to change their driving licences for Spanish ones after living here for six months, something that was a relatively simple, if bureaucratic process before Brexit.
But now the agreement that allows the swap has expired and Brits are obliged to take the Spanish driving in order to legally get behind the wheel if they have been living here for more than six months. (Note: This doesn’t apply to visitors driving on their holiday but only those with residency in Spain)
The difficulties started when the UK left the European Union as a result of Brexit, although Brits in Spain were given a grace period to get their licences swapped over and were told to register their intent to do so before December 30, 2020.
The apparently straightforward exchange was made more complicated however, due to the confusing rules, which varied by region… and of course the pandemic.
While some expats were able to simply turn up and swap their licence others were bogged down by paperwork issues.
A series of three extensions to give expats more time came to an end on April 30.
Marbella lawyer Mark Wilkins, from ROS Abogados, came unstuck after believing that common sense would prevail, as it has in many other EU countries.
While he was able to transfer his licence in the nick of time, his wife was left out in the cold and can no longer legally drive here.
So angry was the lawyer, who moved here from Surrey a few years ago, that he has had direct contact with UK transport secretary Grant Shapps over the debacle.
He told the Olive Press: “It’s excellent you are doing this campaign which I fully support.
“I have great respect for your paper and its campaigning, but I think you will need the help of your friends at the embassy to push this through. Go on and kick ‘em!”
He does however, remain fairly optimistic and during his conversations with Shapps he was told the problem would be ‘resolved shortly’ and that talks were ‘reasonably advanced’.
“They seem to have their legs under the table,” he said, but insisted that no deal was ‘imminent’.
“I feel a bit impotent and not sure what else I can do,” he added.
The British Embassy meanwhile remained upbeat. “We are hopeful that an agreement will be reached in the coming weeks and remain fully committed to making this happen,” said a spokesperson.
She insisted it was untrue that the Spanish authorities had dynamited a deal because the UK refused to give access to its vehicle database to chase up holidaymakers with unpaid fines.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, which is responsible for the gaffe, refused to comment.
Tony and Mandy Heaton both left well-paying jobs in the East Midlands to buy a house in Quesada, in Alicante, in August 2020 during the transition period.
They were approved for residency in the second week of November, but the post Brexit backlog meant they could not get an appointment to apply for permanent residency documents until February with their residency cards only arriving in the first week of April.
They obtained a medical certificate to demonstrate they were fit to drive from a clinic in Guardamar who assured them everything was in place.
“We were told everything would be fine, but we could not get an appointment with the DGT.’
They were then told the only way to solve it was to drive to Elche DGT.
They did so, but when they got there they were refused entry as they did not have an appointment.
“We are being held to ransom by those at the top,” Tony, a former engineer, said.
To make matters worse, Mandy, who had just secured a job as a chef in a local restaurant 10 kilometres away, could not take up her position as she was unable to commute.
She even purchased an electric bike and planned on cycling 30 minutes, but by the time it arrived, they had given the job to someone else.
“We are running down our savings and we now cannot afford the money it would cost for us to learn to drive and pass our test. We might have to abandon our plans and move back to the UK”, the couple told the Olive Press.
Margaret and Eric Wilkinson, spend six months per year in Oliva on the Costa Blanca, wanted to make sure they were doing everything by the book.
The pensioners, from Leeds, hired a lawyer to help them swap their licence and submitted their applications in September 2020, during the Brexit Transition period.
They were told that they had to register their intention to swap their licences by 31 December 2020.
However their lawyer incorrectly insisted they could not register their intention to swap their licences as the system would not accept NIE numbers, only TIE numbers.
“Obviously we accepted this as fact so as a result did not register by the deadline,” said the couple, who retired in 2011, said.
This highlights the crux of the issue – advice given to Brits varied widely depending on the region and in many cases different rules were arbitrarily applied.
OLIVE PRESS sales rep Tina Brace has been driven to distraction by the new ‘draconian’ rules that have stopped her from driving in Spain.
Brace, who has lived in Malaga for 24 years, had been hearing ‘continually conflicting news’ about what she needed to do to get a new Spanish licence.
As well as talking to a lawyer and a gestor, she sought advice from the British embassy.
“I was continually being told that an agreement was in place like the other European countries. It made perfect sense and so I stayed optimistic,” she explains.
“Then out of the blue as the third deadline approached I was told by friends I had to pay for a medical certificate in order to swap my licence over. Then a month later I was told it wasn’t necessary, but when I scrambled to get things done on time it was too late.”
She adds: “As a field saleswoman, I can now only speak to clients over the phone. I’m down to shanks’s pony!”
We urge our readers to sign the parliametary petition to force a debate in the commons here.
- Brits in Spain launch petition to call for driving licence recognition
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