LONDON — The U.K. should extend the application deadline for its post-Brexit EU Settlement Scheme by up to a year because of the slowdown in applications caused by coronavirus restrictions, a campaign group said.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) guarantees the rights of EU nationals who were already living in the U.K by December 31 last year to live, work and access welfare payments in the U.K. The Home Office, which runs the scheme, received 4.8 million applications by the end of last year.
However, in a submission to the U.K.’s new watchdog on EU residents’ rights, campaign group The3Million called for this year’s June 30 deadline for applications to be extended to take account of the pandemic.
More time is needed, it told the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), because charities funded by the Home Office to help vulnerable groups apply have seen their work hit by coronavirus restrictions on face-to-face events, which had been playing a crucial role in informing EU nationals about the process.
An extension, the group argues, would “allow for COVID-19 restrictions to lessen” and charities “to restart their vital services assisting people with applications.”
In its first submission to the IMA, seen by POLITICO ahead of its publication Friday, The3Million said an extension to the scheme would also allow the Home Office to clear its own applications backlog. As of October 2020, there were more than 390,000 pending applications, according to information released by the department. The Home Office has not released updated data on this backlog.
“The Independent Monitoring Authority has a sizable task on its hands given that we are far away from calling EUSS successful,” said The3Million’s head of policy Luke Piper. “We need to stop an avoidable race against the clock as the deadline is approaching fast.”
The group said it had heard “multiple cases” of EU nationals having to wait for longer than a year after applying to the EU Settlement Scheme to be granted status, despite repeated phone calls and emails to the scheme’s resolution centre, which was set up to address questions about the process.
And although U.K. employers, banks, schools and other organizations have been instructed not to request proof of status under the scheme before June 30, The3Million said there had been a host of cases in which EU nationals have been asked for this documentation, leaving those waiting for status “distressed.”
“At the root of all these life-changing issues are the U.K.’s failure to implement the Withdrawal Agreement correctly, a rushed digital-only system, lack of awareness and information, and the hostile environment trapping innocent people,” said Maike Bohn, co-founder of the group.
The3Million’s submission to the IMA also raises ongoing headaches for EU nationals. Those included challenges for those with pre-settled status in applying for British benefits; in obtaining a National Insurance number due to restrictions on face-to-face interviews with government officials; and in proving their status without a physical card or document since they only receive digital proof.
The Home Office has been approached for comment. The department has previously said it will accept late applications where there are reasonable grounds for the deadline being missed.
CORRECTION: This article was updated to clarify that Home Office data on pending applications is in the public domain.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)