Volunteering with Age in Spain: My Day as a Residency Helpline Assistant
The first call of the day comes within 15 minutes.
When we started the Helpline, contacts were few and far between, but it seems that word is definitely out and people are starting to get their affairs in order, hoping to retain their right to remain in post-Brexit Spain.
The first call is a fairly straightforward request - an older caller, several years into their Spanish life and worried about the implications of all these new procedures. Checking which documents they have, their location and their circumstances (are they pensioners? Working? Do they have access to healthcare?) is important to be able to assist them. But just as necessary is reassuring them that they don’t have to tackle this unaided and that the information we give them can help them to keep living their dream under the Spanish sun.
Sometimes, the callers live alone and, especially in the current situation, don’t get out much, so they’re hungry for company and keen to chat - and th
ey have some great stories to tell! It’d be easy to chat all day but there are other customers who need our help, so bringing the conversation to a natural end without making them feel rushed requires a delicate touch.
Most of the time, the conversation doesn’t end when the call does. Because most of the processes are somewhat complex, we do a lot of email follow up, where we expand on the conversation with the customer and provide them with the relevant information, links and processes for their specific situation. Thankfully, we’re well stocked with easy-to-use templates and replies, so it’s not necessary to remember every detail of every process, and there’s always somebody to ask if a more sticky situation arises.
And sticky situations do arise. The processes aren’t as intimidating when they’re laid out clearly, but many of the people we help have more complex situations and might need additional assistance. Some callers have found themselves locked down in Spain during the pandemic and are worried about overstaying their permitted time, or have been unable to return to Spain for the same reason and are concerned about losing their residency.
Others are scared that, after decades of living here, they’ll have to prove that they’re financially able to support themselves, or they have suffered ill health or unemployment and are afraid of the implications this could have on their application. It can be upsetting to hear someone in distress and not be able to fix everything right away, but we do all we can to set their minds at ease and give them the information they need to solve their problems.
It’s so rewarding when all the puzzle pieces finally slot into place, and hearing the worry in someone’s voice become replaced with relief is the best part of the day. We could say we’re “just” helpline volunteers, but a lot of what we do helps to keep people’s dreams alive, and that’s an indescribable feeling.
By Residency Helpline Assistant - Dani Kenyon