Aggrieved UK investors call on Spanish banks to honour deposit guarantees on troubled properties as country launches drive to attract overseas buyers
A publicity roadshow aimed at encouraging foreigners to buy Spanish holiday homes has been branded "an insult" by groups of Britons caught in legal difficulties over the status and funding of their properties on the Costas.
Spanish housing minister, Beatriz Corredor, and public works minister, José Blanco, visit Britain this week at the start of a six-nation tour. The Spanish authorities said the ministers will use the roadshow to encourage individuals and institutional investors to buy some of the estimated 1m new homes lying empty in Spain.
"We must revive the holiday housing market to speed up the 'digestion of stock'," said a Spanish government spokesman, while Blanco claimed the exercise will "highlight the strengths of our economy [and] transparency and legal certainty of our planning legislation".
However, protest bodies such as the Spanish Bank Guarantees Petition and the Finca Parcs Action Group are organising online petitions calling for the roadshow to instead address long-standing grievances on the alleged refusal of Spanish banks to honour aval bancario, or bank guarantees.
Since the late 1960s, Britons buying homes off-plan from Spanish developers have been told their deposits go into third-party reserve funds set up by Spanish banks. If a developer goes bankrupt or fails to build a property the banks then refund a purchaser's deposit. But in recent years, the groups claim, many banks have allegedly refused to honour the guarantees of several thousands of British buyers.
Keith Rule, a spokesman for the campaigners, said: "Many estate agents, lawyers and banks were negligent and acted with a complete lack of professional due diligence. We, as innocent victims of the Spanish housing market, demand action and recompense."
Ruth Genda from Wymondham in Leicestershire put down a £75,000 deposit on a Spanish holiday home in 2003. Construction was delayed, but as the apartment was finally completed it was declared an "illegal build" as it didn't have formal planning permission. Genda took Banco Popular Hipotecario (BPH) to court, which declared her guarantee valid and ordered the bank to refund the purchase. But BPH appealed and the ruling was overturned.
"The case was eventually dismissed and my deposit was never returned. We believe thousands are in the same position. Where is the transparency and fairness which the government ministers now want others to believe in?" Genda said.
The Spanish government says the roadshow is a "pioneering initiative" targeting countries with national economies that are recovering from the downturn and which have historically provided many of the foreign buyers for properties on the Costas.
This week's publicity events in Britain will be followed by similar exercises in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, with Russia later in the year.
Michael Cashman, a Labour member of the European parliament and long-time supporter of British buyers seeking bank guarantee repayments, has written to the Spanish government. "What about those that have already invested and who have found absolutely no results through the Spanish legal system?" he asked, adding: "I would not advise any investment in Spanish property until this problem is resolved."