Today I had a very good meeting with a kind and helpful bureaucrat. In these times such a contradictory statement is like saying, “I had a pleasant encounter with a traffic policeman who stopped me on the motorway”; or “I just enjoyed afternoon tea with an amusing axe murderer.”
The meeting was arranged for me by my union rep Lluís in the Social Security offices in Alicante. We were to meet at 9.30 with Miguel, a civil servant who was father of some students Lluís had taught before he became a full-time teachers’ union rep. Even having arranged such a friendly encounter, we met with the usual obstacles beforehand. Lluís obtained an automated ticket from the machine directing us to Table 7 but when our turn came we explained to the black-uniformed security woman (equipped with a half-metre long leather truncheon) that we needed to go to Table 11 where Miguel was waiting for us.
“No, you must go to Table 7. It says on the ticket.”
Computer says no Table 11. Computer says Table 7.
Lluís explained again that Miguel was waiting for us. He was actually waving to us and beckoning us to Table 11. That was not enough for the black-uniformed table control fascist. She went to speak with Miguel – the truncheon swaying from her ample belt – and came back looking very cross.
“There is a change: you must go to Table 11.”
Yes, we knew Miguel was waiting at Table 11: that’s why he was waving and beckoning. Señora Truncheon took our Table 7 ticket and tore it up. She looked stressed. This was clearly the worst thing that had happened to her at the office this week and there were still another three boring days before the weekend.
All this was just a reminder of the horrible experience we had in the Vilajoiosa Social Security office in January. I had simply wanted to find out what the forecast might be for my Spanish pension, and how soon I might be able to retire. On that occasion we even had a document supplied by the UK Pensions Agency that the Spanish Social Security had demanded, sent urgently from the UK at my request, so it would be there in time for the meeting. We met with a complete dragon who said we had no business to be requesting such information from the UK: that was her job, and in any case, NO, she could NOT give me information about my future pension, and because of BREXIT there would probably be NO future arrangement to guarantee my Spanish and UK pensions worked seamlessly together. After about a dozen utterances of the word “NO” we left after a similar number of minutes.
Which is why Lluís had said he would rearrange the meeting in a different office, with a civil servant he knew. In the meantime I had been sacked from my teaching post in March, as reported separately on this blog; so the question became sharper, whether to find another job, or was it the right moment to retire?
On the walls of the Social Security offices in Alicante there are examples of the worst kind of institutional art: characterless metre-square collages using bits of fabric cut up and pasted down, daubed with beige and grey tempera. The only creative flourish was the artist’s signature; though why the artist would want the work to be attributed to him puzzled me. Alongside the panel that separated his desk from the adjacent desk, Miguel had pinned up a metre-long print of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”. It was a personal statement that worked on every level!
Miguel warmly welcomed us and Lluís reminded him of the basic details: I wanted to know if I should claim my Spanish pension and how it worked together with the UK pension I was already claiming. We established that I was already receiving Unemployment Benefit from Spanish Social Security following my sacking in March. Also we needed to know what would be the situation regarding Brexit after March 2019. Miguel looked genuinely interested in the whole picture and keen to provide all the information. He began getting my details up on his desktop computer screen.
At this point, while we waited for Miguel to read my details, Lluís asked me what I had learned from the British Consul. Last Thursday in Finestrat there was a meeting with the British Consul who had come all the way from Madrid just to tell worried Brits that there was nothing to worry about. Brexit would make no difference at all to the way expats live on the Costa Blanca. To my specific question, about how the unified Spanish and UK pension system would work after March 2019, she said “Oh nothing will change: there will simply be a Spain-UK bilateral arrangement instead of the existing EU accord.” And that was that. Simples. I intended to ask Miguel about that…
Miguel looked at all the figures, the Spanish years worked, the UK pension years paid in, and he did all his calculations. Well, I shall not go into the details, but basically the solution is to carry on claiming unemployment benefit till December 2018: end of tax year. While I continue doing that it still adds to my pensionable Spanish work history. But we need to get my Spanish pension up and running at the start of January 2019 because NOBODY KNOWS (!!!) how Brexit will affect the joint pension arrangements between UK and EU countries after March 2019. As long as I get into the system in January, whatever Spanish pension I receive will not be affected by Brexit.
So that’s sorted and I’ll go to him again in December to get my Spanish pension papers completed. What a helpful man.
Here is his take on the pension arrangements that the British Consul so glibly reassured us about. If Brexit happens it is reckoned there will “probably” be an attempt to strike a new bilateral pension agreement between Spain and UK. As Miguel said, this will be necessary and there are existing agreements with other non-EU countries; but it will take a long time to agree. If you retire in five years from now, it should be in place. But to expect that to happen if you retire at the end of next year: no way is that going to happen!
This is quite different to the story the British Consul gave everyone in the meeting in Finestrat, that “joint Spanish UK pension arrangements would continue unaffected by Brexit”. That might be in somebody’s deluded Brexit head in Whitehall, but this Spanish civil servant said it is nonsense. The present arrangement is an EU deal. No UK-Spain bilateral agreement yet exists. They have not even begun talking about it.
Anyone coming up for retirement needs to know this. If you worked for another year (2018-2019) you would be trying to claim your Spain-UK joint pension at precisely tbe moment the chaos kicks in. So this is the year to retire if you have an option.
This is the Brexit front line. Health care and pensions are a crunch point. You heard it here first. If you want my advice, everyone needs to start learning how to sweep up manure.