Two stories recently about Spain come from Time magazine and The Telegraph. The first provides a ‘conservative estimate’ putting the British in Spain close to 850,000 souls, while the second tells us of ‘an estimated 761,000 Britons living in Spain’.
Who makes these estimates we hear so much about?
What about The Courier, a local newspaper from the Costa Blanca? They say the Britons on the padrón (registered in the town halls) across the province of Alicante have fallen from an impressive 131,000 of them back in 2013, to just 14,000 now.
The population figures used by the Spanish (and no one else) come from the National Institute of Statistics, the INE. According to them, there are 263,029 Britons living in Spain. No arguments, please, that’s the number.
This painfully exact number comes from information provided by the town halls, as coming from their register, the padrón. It used to be a useful guide, for Spaniards, as, if they left one municipality for another, there would be an automatic adjustment in the register, but this is no longer the case today, as many Spaniards have found work abroad, but continue to be registered as local. For foreigners, the padrón is even less exact, and now the rules state that we must re-register every five years, as Europeans, or two years, as simple foreigners.
But what is a ‘resident’ – someone who lives here full time, or partly, or has two homes, or has been away for some time but remains on the padrón for whatever reason? The exact number becomes more and more suspect. And what of those who don’t register, afraid that they will somehow be put onto some other list, perhaps to do with the tax-people? The town halls like to inflate their population register, as it means more licences, more services, more funds. Again, more flubbing.
Furthermore, with the new tax law, the dreadful Modelo 720, where one is expected to declare one’s worldwide holdings – how many foreigners have simply thrown in the towel and left Spain for a more welcoming country like Portugal, or have returned in disgust to their country of origin? Then again, why own a property in Spain if you can no longer let it without enormous inconvenience?
So how many Britons (or Germans, or Dutchmen) live in Spain? The padrón is not the answer; perhaps a better way would be to check the contracts with the electric companies. But that is not the way of the Statisticians.