Significant numbers of Europeans in the UK aged over 65 failed to apply to the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) before the deadline, a parliamentary report has found, warning that this could make thousands of retirement-aged EU nationals vulnerable to Britain’s hostile environment policies.
Just 2% of all applications for the settlement scheme were submitted by people aged over 65, a percentage that is unlikely to reflect the population of older EU nationals living in the UK. Charities supporting older Europeans to apply said they had “encountered many individuals who have no mobile phone, no digital access and inappropriate or no documentation”, and the report warned that people who struggled with the digital technology required to apply were more likely to have missed the deadline for applications at the end of last month.
The House of Lords European affairs committee report called on the government to ensure that support remained in place to help late applicants secure their status.
“The fact that only 2% of applicants are aged over 65 suggests older people may have been missed or simply couldn’t apply by the deadline. These people need more comprehensive legal safeguards to ensure late applications do not count against them securing their rights to remain here,” Lord Kinnoull, the chair of the committee, said. The Citizens’ Rights report noted particular concern for Italian nationals who had emigrated to Britain after the second world war.
The report echoed calls made repeatedly by campaigners for the scheme’s digital-only approach to be scrapped, and for an option of a physical document to prove status and rights in Britain to be granted.
“Without physical documents, EU citizens living here may have challenges securing tenancies, for example. Our government has welcomed the EU’s decision to issue a physical document to all UK citizens in Europe while resisting calls to do the same for EU citizens in Britain. Ministers must explain this contradiction,” Kinnoull added.
Greater clarity was needed to ensure that people making late applications were protected, the report warned. This was particularly vital for the 2 million people who have been granted the more temporary right to remain in the UK, pre-settled status, because they will have to reapply for settled status if they wish to remain, and many of them are likely to miss their application deadlines.
Many of these concerns were also highlighted in a separate study published this week by the Law Centres Network, concentrating on the groups of applicants who have found it hard to apply for the status. An analysis of more than 1,000 complex EUSS cases, assisted for free by the network of 16 charity-funded law centres, found the proportion of long-term residents, who had lived in the UK for more than 20 years, seeking help with their applications had increased considerably.
Julie Bishop, the director of the Law Centres Network, said: “Some people were always going to struggle to apply for settled status, but the Home Office has little knowledge of who they are, and the EUSS was not designed with them in mind. Late applications can be made, but the Home Office alone decides on whether to accept them.
“Windrush has shown us that we cannot rely on their discretionary decisions. Today we call on the Home Office to publish the criteria for acceptance of late applications.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are delighted that there have been more than 6 million applications to the EU settlement scheme and more than 5.1 million grants of status to 30 June. The Citizens’ Rights report recognises this as a significant achievement.
“The report also recognises concerns over the rights of UK nationals living in the EU. The UK government will continue to work with the EU to ensure these rights are upheld, as the UK has done for EU citizens living in the UK.”