The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of EEA citizens and their family members who were lawfully residing in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020 through the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The scheme offers EU nationals the opportunity to apply for settled or pre-settled status in the UK.
This protection includes access to social housing and homelessness assistance. This applies to those experiencing homelessness, or are vulnerably housed, or eligible to access social housing.
However, access to this support varies between holders of EU settled status and of pre-settled status. Questions are being asked of the European Commission whether the UK is complying with its obligations.
Settled and pre-settled status
All EU/EEA nationals and their non-EU family members (NEFM) living in the UK needed to have made an application to the EUSS by 30 June 2021. They can now make a late application (after June 30) to prove their continued rights to live and work in the UK.
Those who can prove more than five years existing residency in the UK are granted settled status (SS), which is equivalent to indefinite leave to remain in the UK. They have the same access to social housing and homelessness assistance as comparable British citizens.
Those with less than five years of residency in the UK are granted pre-settled status (the equivalent of limited leave to remain in the UK). This group needs to make a second, additional application for settled status when they reach five years’ residency.
Pre-settled status (PSS) holders face additional eligibility requirements to get access to social housing and homelessness assistance (see Regulation 4 and Regulation 6 of the Eligibility Regulations). In essence, this group must show a further qualifying ‘right to reside’, such as being a ‘worker’.
Access to housing
We (and others) have previously reported that this two-stage eligibility was causing confusion among frontline statutory services, such as local authorities, who were uncertain about the rights available to those with SS and PSS.
And this confusion is now reflected in decisions being taken by local authorities which are having an impact on individuals, specifically single mums with PSS looking for housing and homelessness assistance.
Take the case of Maria (not her real name). Maria moved to the UK in July 2020 with her two children, and she has been working in the UK since then. She is an EU national. She was placed in temporary accommodation by the local council when she asked for assistance from them.
But she was then given 15 days’ notice to vacate the property as her housing assessment concluded she was not entitled to any housing support because she ‘is a person subject to immigration control who is not eligible for help because you do not come within a class of persons prescribed in regulations made by the government’.
The problem is Maria is not, in fact, a person subject to immigration control in the UK – such as non-EEA nationals and EEA nationals who came to the UK after 31 December 2020.
Maria contacted GYROS (the charity we work with) about her impending eviction. Children’s services are also involved as Maria has two children and is being evicted from her temporary accommodation.
GYROS was told by the council that they would call the police if Maria did not vacate the property. Children’s services reiterated this point about the police and told Maria they had a duty only to her children, and it would be a shame if they were taken into care as she is a good mother. They believe her best option would be to return to her home country in Europe.
Maria has been working in the UK since she arrived here and is in receipt of Universal Credit, having passed the DWP’s habitual residency test eligibility checks. GYROS requested a review of the housing assistance decision.
On eviction day, an extension of 28 days was granted to Maria while a review is undertaken. GYROS is now working on collating all the evidence needed to prove Maria’s (and her children’s) rights.
Maria’s case is not an isolated one. GYROS has been approached about two cases this week alone, both women, both PSS holders, both seeking housing assistance, both struggling to prove their rights.
One, a victim of domestic abuse, living in the UK since 2018, was told she had no rights to any social housing assistance in the UK due to her immigration status. She is an EU national with PSS, is working part time and has two children under the age of six.
Another, a 24-year woman who is seven months pregnant, approached GYROS after rough sleeping for two consecutive nights. She works at a local chicken factory. She has PSS. She is currently placed in emergency accommodation which costs her £100 per week (from her £280 weekly salary).
These women have access to community support, advice, and advocacy via GYROS. They have their pre-settled status in place and they are all in employment. This means they are in a favourable position as compared to those not in employment.
For example, under these additional eligibility rules, a victim of domestic abuse who is a pre-settled status holder, but who fails to meet the additional right to reside test, will struggle to access a place in refuge/housing support.
To date over two million people were granted pre-settled status (43% of total applicants) under the EUSS.
The Withdrawal Agreement was a commitment to protect the rights of EU/EEA citizens and their family members already resident in the UK before December 2020. The one issue both Leave and Remain agreed on was that the UK should be generous to all EU citizens who had moved to live, work and contribute to the UK.
Incorrect application of the eligibility rules can have serious consequences, including homelessness and removal of children into care. Our early research findings suggest more support is needed for frontline statutory services to understand the rights associated with these new immigration statuses, for both settled and pre-settled status holders.
By Catherine Barnard, deputy director at UK in a Changing Europe and Fiona Costello, research associate at the University of Cambridge. To find out about more about the Settlement Scheme, read our report.