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BREXIT: How British citizens in Italy are overcoming bureaucratic problems

Campaign groups say not all of Italy's British residents are suffering Brexit-related problems, and that those who have are now getting them resolved.

BREXIT: How British citizens in Italy are overcoming bureaucratic problems
Many Brits in Italy say they're finding their way out of Brexit limbo. Photo: Anna Monaco/AFP

Many of Italy’s British residents have reported bureaucratic problems since the UK left the European Union, mainly due to being incorrectly asked for a permesso or carta di soggiorno which they do not have.

Some of these issues have been serious – including difficulties with accessing healthcare, benefits or employment contracts.

Italian authorities announced the new, non-mandatory electronic carta di soggiorno as a means to evidence the rights of British residents in Italy post-Brexit – valid for those who had registered or applied for residency before 31st December 2020.

READ ALSO: ‘What I learned when I applied for the Brexit residence card for Brits in Italy’

But many people are facing delays in getting the cards, either because of long wait times for an initial appointment, or because of problems with fingerprinting.

Despite these issues, many of Italy’s British residents have now been able to resolve their problems thanks to assistance from the British Embassy or the IOM, say campaigners from Beyond Brexit, a volunteer-run group providing information and support on citizens’ rights.

“It was, and still is, important to highlight the problems of being wrongly asked for a permesso or carta di soggiorno, from being unable to proceed with a purchase or citizenship application to losing a job,” Beyond Brexit representatives told The Local.

“It needs to be repeated many times; UK nationals covered by the Withdrawal Agreement can’t get a permesso di soggiorno; they can get a carta di soggiorno but it’s not obligatory. It is highly recommended as, although our rights don’t depend on it, it is the best way of evidencing them.”

“Now for the good news… We know from our members that not everyone is having difficulty, even if they are still waiting for their carta di soggiorno, and others who have had problems are getting them resolved.”

Police headquarters in some parts of the country have now begun issuing the first residency cards. But for anyone who is still waiting and experiencing problems in the meantime, there is help available.

Q&A: The British Embassy answers your questions about life in Italy after Brexit

Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP

“We are sharing links to communications from the Italian authorities and directing people to the right place when they need help,” Beyond Brexit said. “Support from the British Embassy and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been absolutely invaluable and we are delighted that the funding for IOM is continuing for a while longer. And, of course, people help each other by sharing their experiences.”

Here, the group shares some examples from members who have found a solution to their problems:

“I was refused healthcare; from December the local ASL refused to renew my tessera sanitaria (health card) without the permesso di soggiorno even though I had been resident and paid taxes for years. It was only after assistance in February the issue was resolved. Beyond Brexit put me in touch with the healthcare case worker at the embassy.” – Kay, Piedmont

“I applied for the ‘Premio Nascita’ via the INPS app and was refused because I did not have a permesso di soggiorno and am no longer EU. I also went directly to the local INPS office where I was told to rectify my immigration status before I could obtain any benefits. I had a lovely lady from the Consulate helping me with this (first contact via the Living in Italy website contact form). After more than three months I have finally received the ‘Premio Nascita’ and I have been informed that a circular has been sent to all INPS offices stating that us Brits who benefit from the Withdrawal Agreement do not need a ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’ and the ‘Carta di Soggiorno’ is not mandatory.” – Kayleigh, Modena

READ ALSO: Setting the record straight: What post-Brexit rights do Brits have in Italy?

“We were asked for a permesso di soggiorno to sell our house. I sent him the document sent to all notaries, which I found in Beyond Brexit, and then they agreed we don’t need the permesso.” – Carol, Veneto

“I was originally denied a carta d’identità by an office of the anagrafe di Milano as I didn’t have the carta di soggiorno. I had made the appointment but was turned away on arrival. I spoke to IOM who contacted the anagrafe. I was recontacted shortly afterwards and invited to a new appointment where it all went without a hitch.” – James, Milan

“I was refused healthcare at first but sent them something from Ministero della Salute that I got from Beyond Brexit and it was sorted. Next problem, yesterday my boss went to a CAF (Tax assistance centre) to see about getting me a contract, they told her I need a carta di soggiorno. I’ve already said I don’t and sent the links from the Ministero del Lavoro.” – Clare, Lombardia

“With my car purchase, the dealer finally agreed that I could use self declaration an hour or so after I had contacted IOM. Brilliant result. Now, if only we could get out of lockdown, I could actually drive the beast.” – George, Le Marche

if you need assistance, contact the International Organisation for Migration by emailing [email protected] or calling 800 684 884.

You can contact the British Embassy via their Living in Italy website.

Find more information and advice in the Beyond Brexit Facebook group.

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BREXIT

‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

One couple from Manchester found the home of their Tuscan retirement dreams, but the stalemate over a UK-Italy driving licence agreement is throwing their future into question.

'So stressful': How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple's Tuscan dream

Iain and Lynn Gosling lived and worked all their lives in and around Manchester – at a bank, where they met, then in various schools – but had always dreamed of retiring in Tuscany.

In 2018, with the Brexit clock ticking, they decided to take the plunge, and after a lengthy Place in the Sun-style hunt, they finally found their ideal home.

The podere (farmhouse) they chose just outside the town of Pomerance, in the province of Pisa, checked all their boxes: it had an olive grove, was close enough to the beach, had a friendly local community, and the town was particularly invested in green energy, sourcing most of its power from renewables.

Most importantly, it was just over an hour’s drive from Pisa airport, meaning they could regularly go back and visit family in the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

“We’d holidayed in Tuscany for 20 years, and the views and everything were even better than where we’d been holidaying. So we kind of thought we struck gold really,” says Lynn.

“When we saw it, we just knew, and when we went into the town it was such a good, welcoming feeling.”

Iain and Lynn's podere in Pomerance.

Iain and Lynn’s podere in Pomerance. Source: Iain Gosling.

The couple began building a new life, learning Italian and befriending local residents. They were careful to take the necessary steps to secure their future in Italy before the Brexit deadline, registering with the town hall and later obtaining carta di soggiorno residency cards.

But – like many other British nationals in Italy – the pair didn’t anticipate that almost two years on from Brexit, negotiations for a reciprocal driving licence agreement between the two countries would have stalled. It’s an ongoing state of limbo that threatens to make their retirement dream unworkable.

While with hindsight the pair would have exchanged their driving licences before the Brexit deadline, they believed a deal would soon be reached – especially as the UK allows EU licence-holders to drive with almost no restrictions.

“If we cannot drive in the short term, I’m sure we can find a way round it somehow,” says Iain. “Longer term? No, not really.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

A 12-month grace period granted in 2021 is due to expire in January unless an agreement is reached, forcing UK drivers to choose between taking an Italian driving exam that could well turn out to be unnecessary, or gambling on a last-minute deal that risks leaving them without a valid licence if it doesn’t materialise.

For Iain and Lynn, who live a four-minute drive from the town on hilly country roads without access to public transport or pavements, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

“I’d be absolutely lost without driving,” says Lynn, who judges that without a car the couple would have to make daily hour-long round walks into town to buy basic necessities.

They decided that Iain would take the exam so that at least one of them would still be able to drive in the absence of a deal, and booked his theory test for November to give him time to prepare.

As a minimum of 32 days must pass between passing the theory test and sitting the practical exam, he’ll only just secure his Italian licence in time in the event that there’s no agreement – if he manages to pass both on the first go.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse.

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse. Source: Iain Gosling.

“So – no pressure on the theory test,” says Iain, who plans to fly back early from Christmas holidays in the UK to sit his practical exam if he succeeds in passing the former.

The couple know they could have begun the process earlier. But the test requires answering the same theory questions as a native Italian speaker and a taking mandatory six hours of practical lessons, and it isn’t cheap – Iain and Lynn estimate the total cost to be just under €1,000.

What’s more, those who pass an Italian driving test are classed as new drivers (neopatentati) for three years, which comes with a range of restrictions on speed limits and vehicle engine size, and a zero tolerance policy on alcohol.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

All this has made taking the test a last resort for people who believed the UK and Italian governments would have reached an agreement by this point – or have at least issued clear guidance as to what action UK licence-holders should take.

The UK’s ambassador to Italy stresses that negotiations continue – though has encouraged British residents to book an Italian driving test.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Rome told The Local in October: “Since August we have continued and intensified further our work with our Italian colleagues and have made progress towards our shared objective.”

Lynn says: “Over the last six months it was very optimistic, everything we were hearing. It’s just in the past two months that we’ve thought, well, wait a minute.”

If Iain doesn’t manage to pass the test before the deadline and no deal is reached, “we are stuck,” he says.

“This situation is so stressful.”

READ ALSO: How UK drivers in Italy face new problems after passing Italian driving test

The couple fear that without the ability to drive, their current lifestyle would be unsustainable.

“You wake up thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it,” says Lynn. “Anxiety, that’s how it makes you feel.”

“Someone will turn around and say, well why didn’t you take your driving tests 12 months ago so you’re not in this situation?” says Iain. “But if all the signs were encouraging from the ambassador, we thought well OK, we can keep our benefits here and we don’t want to lose them.”

While the embassy insists that negotiating the agreement is its top priority, Iain worries that the recent political upheaval in both the UK and Italy has pushed the issue on to the back burner.

“We have no choice but to have faith in our British representatives to deliver and soon too, because the previous regulation extension was far too late,” Iain says. “We need to know now so we can make definite plans and contingencies.”

Despite the stress, Iain and Lynn are determined to do all they can to find a way to remain in Pomerance, where they say they’ve been embraced by local residents and have become good friends with their Italian neighbours who occupy the other half of their semi-detached property.

“We don’t want to give this up,” says Iain. “We love it here and we want to stay.”

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