Today the Home Office will publish a report, produced by Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt, on the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) on how the settlement scheme for citizens living in the UK is working. At first sight, the answer is well. As the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has said, there have been more than three million applications by EU nationals living in the UK to EUSS.
This is a huge number but it masks the other important (and completely unknown) number – those who haven’t applied. And as the deadline in which to apply approaches, this group becomes more and more important.
Even for the group who should find the EUSS application ‘easy’ (those who have the correct equipment (a smart phone), relevant documentation, and English language skills) it hasn’t always been straightforward.
There are those who have had to send off their passports and await decisions, those whose age exceeds 100, those who have been in the UK for so long that their ‘alien certificate’ has not been recognised, and those who are affected by the backlog of decisions anxiously waiting for confirmation of their status. We’ve had reports of the app not recognising darker skin colours, meaning that people are having very real issues to submit a picture for their application.
As for those who haven’t yet applied for EUSS, the hardest work is yet to be done, as the then Secretary for State for the Home Office, Brandon Lewis, said at the recent EUSS National Conference on 10 February 2020.
We have already highlighted one group, namely rural, isolated farmworkers who were simply unaware of the scheme. But they are not alone.
The numbers of applications from those aged under 18 (387,000 in total) or over 65 (59,000 in total) are worryingly low. Concerns have also been raised about those in care homes and those with dementia. Many older people moved to the UK to help their children with childcare. Often, they haven’t done paid work in the UK, and nor are they named on a utilities bill. How do they evidence their EUSS claim in their own right?
The Home Office is planning a ‘push’ on reaching looked after children in care – among whom applications have been low. But it is not just children in care. One agency in Great Yarmouth (GYROS) reported speaking to some parents who had made applications in their own right, unaware that they also needed to make an application for their children, as the child had been born in the UK.
There are also a large number of individuals rough sleeping or vulnerably housed who might be unaware of the scheme, or do not have access to historical documentation to meet the requirements of the scheme. While they could potentially get settled status with a letter of support (for example from a local charity), they need to show they have been accessing support from a local agency for the previous 5 years.
And then there is the issue of advice sharks who charge money to support people making applications for EUSS. While this is not strictly an illegal practice, many ‘advice sharks’ operate in a similar way to loan sharks, targeting those most vulnerable and using coercive control and sometimes violence to exert power over their customers. One frontline worker tells us:
We are noticing a sharp increase in the number of clients contacting us, having paid someone in the Portuguese community to provide advice, including form filling for EUSS / benefit applications. The reason we are seeing these clients is that they have often been badly advised. We are also aware that in addition to any fee they pay for advice, some clients are having to pay part of their benefits, when in payment, to these individuals. Most of the clients have very poor English language skills, making them very vulnerable.
The cost of the ‘advice’ ranges but tends to be around £40.00 for a single person and £70.00 for a couple. One couple we have seen this month have been so badly disadvantaged by the ‘advice’ they have been given and are reduced to having almost nothing to live on, resorting to food banks and energy vouchers just to stay afloat. They are both unwell and vulnerable. Another claimant is unable to access her EUSS application, due to the paid for ‘adviser’ having set it up in such a way only he can access it, so that he has total control over it.
There are, of course, legitimate specialist agencies working to support these groups. However, Home Office funding to 57 organisations to support those most vulnerable to undertake applications ends in March 2020 with (as yet) no sign of it being extended – which leaves a funding gap of over a year, because applications for EUSS can be made until 30 June 2021. Staff on these projects potentially face redundancy.
As time passes, urgency around reaching those who have not applied is paramount. Many suspect it will be only after the application deadline passes and people try to access healthcare (for example) that we will know the true number of those who missed the June 2021 deadline. Are we ‘sleepwalking into another Windrush’ where people suddenly find they have ‘illegal’ status in the UK, and so suddenly find they cannot access healthcare, housing, welfare benefits or employment?
And this is not to mention another live issue: the ongoing need for people pro-actively to maintain their EUSS, updating their passport details, address, and so on. Many are unaware of this. Others are unaware they will need to re-apply for settled status when they qualify; they assume pre-settled status automatically rolls into settled status. Our research shows that this ongoing administrative requirement is likely to cause significant issues in the future.