It is now over 3 years since the UK Home Office launched the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on 21st January 2019 in readiness for Brexit. According to the latest government data, as of the end of December 2021, 6,385,500 EUSS applications have been received, 333,200 of these arriving after the deadline of 30th June 2021. So far, 6,057,400 EUSS applications have been processed, resulting in 52% of applicants receiving settled status, 41% receiving pre-settled status, and 3% receiving a refusal. Their data also shows that EUSS applications received since 30th June 2021 have been a mix of late applicants, joining family members, and those moving from pre-settled to settled status. Here we look at the conclusions of the latest EUSS inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration and some of the issues applicants are now experiencing with their applications and getting help.
Is the EUSS reaching the most vulnerable?
In January 2022, David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, presented his latest EUSS inspection report entitled 'A further inspection of the EU Settlement Scheme' to Parliament. This latest report has a particular focus on how well the Home Office is ensuring access to the EUSS by the most vulnerable who are eligible to apply. We have written at length about the concerns that some who are eligible to apply may not gain the secure immigration status to which they are entitled due to factors outside their control; including those with serious health conditions, victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking, victims of domestic violence, those with no fixed address, and vulnerable children.
The inspection report includes a number of positive and negative findings regarding the performance of the EUSS. From a positive perspective, over 257,000 vulnerable people have received grant-funded organisation support to make their EUSS applications. On the negative side, it points out that the Home Office's EUSS 'comprehensive vulnerability strategy' published in March 2018 has not been reviewed or updated since, with "no holistic monitoring or evaluation conducted of its impact on specific vulnerable cohorts, or of learning and improvement applied". And frustratingly, many EUSS refusals resulted from applicants failing to respond to requests for evidence of residency or relationship. The inspection report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- The Home Office needs to start collecting, collating and utilising data about vulnerability and protected characteristics from a wide range of sources – this is to identify trends and problems and feed this back into the EUSS strategy for helping those most vulnerable.
- Provide refresher training to caseworkers on the assessment of EUSS applications involving children and those under 21 (this includes when to apply flexibility and allocate sibling/family member(s) to the same caseworker).
- Expedite the work being carried out to identify all eligible adults with the assistance of third parties such as local authorities, health and social care trusts and HM Prisons and Probation Service.
While there has undoubtedly been a sizeable effort by the Home Office to reach some of the most vulnerable people who are eligible to gain status under the EUSS, it is clear that they need to review how well their strategy is functioning, review lessons learned, and take measures to reach out to those who remain left behind and risk losing the opportunity that the scheme offers.
Prospective EUSS applicants struggling to get guidance from the Home Office
Another area of concern that has emerged in recent months, and one that is preventing those who are eligible from gaining pre or settled status, is the lack of timely help from the Home Office. According to a recent analysis following a freedom of information request to the Home Office, the EUSS telephone helpline, which is the main point of contact for those with questions about making an application to the scheme, is substantially underperforming. The Home Office has revealed that a worryingly low 44% of calls made to the EUSS helpline are reaching caseworkers. The data shows 1.4m million calls were made to the helpline between November 2020 and November 2021, this means that only 650,000 of these were successfully 'connected'. In many cases, people calling the EUSS line heard the following message, "Thank you for calling the resolution centre. We are experiencing high demand for our services and currently have no more space in our call queue… Your call will now be disconnected".
As a result of problems in getting hold of EUSS helpline caseworkers, prospective applicants have been left unsure how to proceed with their applications. In one typical case reported to the EU campaign group, the3million, an EUSS applicant explained, "I was told to provide evidence of the years 2013-2021, but I am not sure what and how much exactly they require. So I have been trying to ring the helpline, which so far has always ended in the call being terminated. I sleep even worse than usual, some nights not at all".
While the Home Office has reassured the over 320,000 people whose applications are still being processed that their immigration rights are secure while waiting for a decision, they are still left struggling to prove their right to work, rent, and claim benefits.
Latvian national has EUSS application refused
In December 2021, Latvian national Laura Randone who has lived in the UK for over 5 years, had her EUSS application refused on the basis that she had "not provided sufficient evidence" showing she was living in the UK before the end of 2020. Ms Randone lives with her British husband and has 3 children, 2 with British citizenship. Understandably believing that the Home Office had made a mistake, she applied for an Administrative Review (AR). An AR is a request for the Home Office to review the decision on the basis that a mistake has been made. Despite making an in-time AR request, she has been waiting for longer than 4 months and still has no resolution (AR applications are normally processed within 28 days; however, this has increased to 3 months due to high levels of demand). The additional challenge for Ms Randone is that her mother in Latvia is unwell, and she has been advised that she may not be granted re-entry permission in the UK if she leaves the country, even though her rights should be protected while the AR is pending.
In the case of Ms Randone and many others like her waiting for either an initial decision or the outcome of an AR, the uncertainty caused is impacting their ability to find accommodation, work, receive benefits, and even visit loved ones.
While the Home Office may be struggling to provide the support needed to EUSS applicants and their family members, there is still a wealth of resources and expertise available from other sources. Our message to anyone struggling to receive guidance on their application from the Home Office is to reach out to an immigration solicitor who can provide the specific help and advice needed in a timely manner.