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Create a 'supportive' not hostile environment to EU and EEA citizens in UK, BASW tells Priti Patel

Concern for vulnerable groups as EU Settlement Scheme passes

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 1 July, 2021

BASW is urging the government to extend the deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) amid warnings thousands of EU/EEA citizens could face losing their homes and jobs.

European citizens living in the UK were asked to apply to the scheme from March 2019.

Applicants must prove their identity, show they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions to qualify. Failure to do so leads to loss of lawful immigration status.

More than 5.6 million EU citizens have so far applied, but there is a backlog of 400,000 and the deadline of June 30 has now passed.

There are fears many vulnerable groups, including children in care and children about to turn 18 may not know they need to apply.

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

BASW chief executive Ruth Allen called for a change in policy to create a “supportive environment”. In  a recent letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel she said: “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.”

Dr Allen points to respect for human rights and social justice and raises fears about children and vulnerable people missing out: “We are concerned that… many looked after children, young people, and vulnerable people who access social work services could lose their rights because they have not applied. We are asking that the government recognises the barriers to engagement that exist, preventing many hard-to-reach people from carrying out tasks such as registering with the EUSS.

“Social workers can advocate, inform, and defend the rights 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.”

BASW also flagged up the risk of unlawful residency: “Any period of unlawful residency will have serious impacts on future applications for citizenship and if a young person has ambitions to attend university, this could impact their eligibility for student finance. They could also face deportation from the UK.”

The letter points to other vulnerable groups, such as people without mental capacity, those with additional needs, Roma communities, those experiencing exploitation or abuse, and those out of touch with services who may not know to apply, even after the deadline.

“Extending the deadline and providing a supportive, welcoming environment for people to still come forward after the deadline is a necessary step in ensuring the most in need of support engage with the scheme.”

Advocacy group Migrant Voice has raised concerns about what happens to those at risk of penalties, flagging up concerns over future employment, accommodation and healthcare rights.

“From 1 July, all employers and landlords must check the status of new employees or tenants. Facing high fines if they get it wrong, they also have to understand who still has the right to work or rent because they have a pending application.

“We don’t think the UK is ready for this and that many will become victims of the hostile environment. We don’t believe that anyone is prepared - from doctors to employers, border officials to local authorities. We foresee that landlords and employers may unfairly discriminate against EU citizens who have the right to be in the UK, because they do not understand the law or for fear of being penalised.”

Jonathan Portes, professor of Economics at King's College London, and senior fellow at the think tank UK in a Changing Europe, said children in care and older people were particularly at risk of being missed. He called for a flexible approach in a recent Radio Four interview, However, he added: “The problem is, of course, that historically the Home Office does not have a great record in behaving flexibly or humanely towards people whose immigration status is in doubt, whether it is their fault or the fault of the state.”

According to recent reports, late applications are going to be permitted as long as they meet "reasonable grounds":

These include:

• If a parent, guardian or council has failed to apply on behalf of a child

• A person has a serious medical condition which stopped them from applying on time

• If someone is a victim of modern slavery, is in an abusive relationship, is vulnerable or lacks the ability to make the digital application

• Other compelling or compassionate reasons, including in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

Help and resources

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Forum has published a factsheet explaining more at https://www.adass.org.uk/media/8711/nrpf-factsheet-euss-adass-euss-v2.pdf

In addition, ADASS webinars on the issue can be booked at https://www.adass.org.uk/euss

The DWP has sent guidance that EU/EEA citizens will continue to be contacted over the next few months, encouraging them to apply. Home Office Guidance is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eu-settlement-scheme-caseworker-guidance

Grant Funded Organisations can provide direct advice to applicants and organisations supporting them to apply. Information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/help-eu-settlement-scheme

Organisations and individuals supporting vulnerable adults to apply are encouraged to make contact with specialist immigration advisors at one of over 70 national Home Office Grant Funded Organisations www.gov.uk/help-eu-settlement-scheme who will be able to guide applicants through the process. Information on how to best support adults who lack mental capacity can be found here: www.airecentre.org/euss-workshops