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EU Settlement Scheme: Social workers see the obstacles every day – why can’t the Government?

Extending the deadline and providing a supportive environment reassures people that coming forward to register themselves is the right way forward.

Ruth Allen CEO BASW comments on the EU Settlement Scheme.

Since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, there has been significant concern about the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK.

The UK Government launched the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) which invites EU citizens living in the UK to apply for pre-settled or settled status.  Now time has almost run out as the EUSS closes at midnight on 30th June.

On the surface, the EUSS scheme seems a straightforward route for people to secure their rights.

Yet social workers have seen first-hand that there are significant obstacles in the way of ensuring that everyone who needs to sign up to the scheme has done so.

The difficulty of accessing support and advice has been worsened by the disruptions to social care and other support during the pandemic and the Government must take account of this.

In March 2021, The Children’s Society published research which found that over 50% of the identified EU/EEA and Swiss looked after children had yet to apply to the EUSS.

Local authorities have the duty to make these applications on behalf of children affected by the changes – but if they are not doing so, the Government must encourage and support this to happen.

We are writing to the UK Government to ask them to accept and take action to ensure people can apply after the EUSS deadline without fear of repercussion such as deportation or a removal of rights. 

The EUSS will not work for all people. In particular, recognising that a child cannot take responsibility for their own immigration status, the Government must ensure that those who turn 18 whilst resident in the UK are given the opportunity to apply to the EUSS without fear of deportation or removal of rights.

The Government must recognise that being aware of changing rules on residency and rights is not easily understood by every person that it affects, especially if that person is at risk, has additional support needs and/or requires others to advocate for their best interests. This affects both children and adults.

Social workers can advocate, inform, and defend the right of people that they work with, but we need local and national Government to step up, accept responsibility and take action to prevent any child from having no legal status in the UK as of 1st July.

If a child or young person does not have an application submitted on their behalf by the deadline, they may find themselves, through no fault of their own, immediately being cut off from essential services and support. This could mean the current or future loss of a right to work, to rent, to hold a bank account or a driving license.

Any period of unlawful residency will have serious impacts on a future application for citizenship and if a young person has ambitions to attend university, this could impact their eligibly for student finance. They could also face deportation from the UK.

Whilst children are a key group that will be most impacted by not applying to the EUSS before the deadline, there are many groups within wider society that need support and not punishment.

These include people without mental capacity to decide on their residency arrangements, people with additional needs such as learning disabilities and/or autistic people, young people experiencing exploitation or abuse who may also be out of touch with services – and many more.

There are also many people in Roma communities who are unaware of the EUSS and the implications of not submitting an application and some that do not have the required documents to prove their identity.

Minoritised and stigmatised communities such as Roma face particular prejudices that make it all the more difficult for people to come forward.

Extending the deadline and providing a supportive environment reassures people that coming forward to register themselves is the right way forward.  Social workers know this – we see the challenges and obstacles every day – but will the Government?