Fortunately, for those Britons in Spain whose command of the language appears to stretch no further than hola or gracias and who are lost in Spanish bureaucracy, help is at hand: Spanish civil servants are to work at the British consulates in Malaga and Alicante to help expatriates to integrate with their neighbours.In a deal between Britain and Spain, the staff will offer advice on dealing with health services, registering with the local authorities and property problems.More than one million Britons are thought to live in Spain for at least part of the year. However, many of the thousands who headed there to retire in the sun never registered with local authorities or health services, preferring to pay taxes in Britain or rely on benefits paid back home.Because the pound has fallen against the euro and with Spain in a recession, many have found that the dream has soured. With a sparse command of Spanish and faced with trying to fathom their way through a labyrinthine bureaucracy, a rising number are struggling to cope. Expatriate aid agencies report that some have become dependent on handouts.Others bought holiday homes, putting their trust in estate agents or lawyers simply because they spoke some English. Only later did they discover that the dream homes were illegal and faced demolition.
Mary McKechnie, of the British Association of Marbella, said: “I lose patience with some people who can’t say more than gracias [thank you] and por favor [please] and don’t know how to do anything.”Karen O’Reilly, of Loughborough University, author of The British on the Costa del Sol, said: “The main point is that integration is linked to social exclusion. People who are not integrated can end up socially excluded.“I do not mean they have to learn the language and/or have Spanish friends, but they do need to understand the rules and regulations and be legal residents in order to claim rights and to have responsibilities.”
In an interview with The Times, Chris Bryant, the Europe Minister who visited Spain last weekend to meet British expatriates, said: “I would appeal to British people living in Spain to register with the authorities and with the health services.”