Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Risk of “Terrible Injustice”

Terrible Injustice

Numerous EU citizens could be prevented from accessing rights in the UK due to difficulties applying for settled status

What has happened?

Numerous EU citizens are in dire straits trying to apply for settled status in the UK under the EU settlement scheme, which will allow them to access rights and benefits in the UK. This comes amidst the deadline for the settlement of EU citizens, 30th June 2021, which has passed.

Applications for settled status appear to be greatly hindered by the overwhelmed Home Office helplines and advisors. While the Home Office claims that it takes five days to settle an application, data from a freedom of information request shows that as of April 2021, 205,875 people out of 305,000 pending applications had been waiting more than 31 days for settled status (68%). [1]

The UK government has also published figures showing a piling backlog of applications. As of 31st May 2021, only 5.27 million out of 5.61 million applications have been processed. [2] With up to 12,000 applications daily, [3] this has forced many applicants to wait in line on an online application queue that is already overwhelmed.

What does this mean?

There were difficulties in getting timely assistance in applications. Moreover, there is a risk that ministers in the UK and EU are challenged for risking a “terrible injustice” regarding the 30th June deadline. [4]

The deadline also placed a strain on the charitable systems in the UK with many charities being overwhelmed in capacity and unable to attend to new applications. [5] This has left many applicants stranded without access to legal advice and desperately awaiting support. Christopher Desira, director of the law firm Sepharus that provides free legal advice to vulnerable individuals about settlement, noted that he and colleagues were at maximum capacity and needed to decline cases from people. [6]

What are the impacts?

Given the many vulnerable individuals who will be left out of the benefits available upon settlement, it is imperative for the government to seriously consider providing leeway for more applications given that the deadline has passed. Nevertheless, it is arguable that this will open the floodgates to many applications to the Home Office which will be counterproductive to the 30th June deadline in the first place.

To deal with this, the government could consider negotiating with the EU for a special test criteria to be set that allows for EU citizens that are highly vulnerable to be allowed settled status in the UK. This would likely provide objectivity to the Home Office in assessing cases after the deadline, and avoid facing a huge influx of applications from practically “anyone” from the large pool of EU citizens.

Currently, the Home Office has noted that those who provide “reasonable grounds” for missing the 30th June deadline will be allowed to make a late application with flexibility taken when assessing these cases. [7]

However, Luke Piper, legal director at the3million, a grassroots organisation of EU citizens living in the UK, noted that employers and landlords will not take on a new employee or tenant who has applied to the scheme late until settled status has been achieved. [8] As a result, applicants may not receive benefits, employment, housing and other basic rights on the basis that they do not have EU settled status. [9]

This will seriously affect the financial and physical wellbeing of applicants who are vulnerable. To avoid a potentially detrimental scene, the government should strive to make sure that vulnerable EU citizens apply successfully for settled status. The government should resort to a well-crafted criteria to sieve out highly vulnerable individuals for settled status. This grants them access to rights and benefits that may give them a fighting chance at achieving a better life.

The Legists Content Team

By Nickolaus Ng

Assessing Firms:

#Allen&Overy #Sepharus #Clifford Chance #Clyde&Co #Freshfields

Footnotes:

[1] May Bulman, ‘Two-thirds of EU settlement applicants waiting over a month despite Home Office claim it takes five days’ (Independent, 25th June 2021) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/two-thirds-of-eu-settlement-applicants-waiting-over-a-month-despite-home-office-claim-it-takes-five-days-b1872032.html>

[2] Home Office, ‘EU Settlement Scheme statistics’

<https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/eu-settlement-scheme-statistics>

[3] May Bulman, ‘Home Office receiving over 10,000 EU settlement applications a day as deadline looms’ (Independent, 23rd June 2021) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-citizens-settlement-law-society-home-office-b1870485.html>

[4] May Bulman, ‘Thousands could be stripped of rights amid ‘frantic’ last-minute efforts to apply for EU settlement’ (Independent, 30th June 2021)

<https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-settlement-deadline-home-office-uk-b1874861.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=INDNEWS%2330062021&utm_term=IND_Headlines_Masterlist_CDP>

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] May Bulman, ‘Tens of thousands of Europeans face losing benefits within days as one in six yet to apply for EU settlement’ (Independent, 21st June 2021) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-nationals-benefit-settlement-home-office-b1869812.html>

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