How councils can help vulnerable EEA nationals secure future residence rights 

13 March 2020 

Changes to residence rights put EEA nationals​ at risk of losing access to employment and services

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) on 31 January, it is now more pressing for European Economic Area (EEA) residents and their family members to secure their right to remain in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme if they are intending to stay in the UK after 30 June 2021. Councils are already playing an important role by raising awareness amongst affected residents but staff who are working with EEA nationals also need to be able to identify and assist vulnerable EEA nationals who may need to apply. Failure to do so may leave people in a position where they are unable to work, claim benefits or access other services. Here we provide information about the current residence rights of EEA nationals and how they will change after free movement ends, an update on the EU Settlement Scheme, and implications of these changes for councils. 

Current and future immigration position 
During the transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020, the rights and entitlements of EEA nationals and their family members will remain the same as they did prior to the UK’s departure from the EU. European free movement continues to apply to EEA nationals living in or entering the UK before 31 December 2020. 

EEA nationals and their family members who are living in the UK by 31 December 2020 will have until 30 June 2021 to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. EEA nationals who do not apply under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 are likely to become unlawfully present after that date. 

EEA nationals arriving in the UK on or after 1 January 2021 will be subject to UK immigration laws and will need to meet the same entry requirements as non-EEA nationals if they want to visit, work, study or join family in the UK. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019-21 will end European free movement on 31 December 2020. Plans for a new points-based immigration system have been published by the Government in a policy statement and are summarised in our factsheet

EU Settlement Scheme applications 
The Home Office has reported that over 3.1 million applications were made by the end of January 2020. Out of the 2.7 million applications that had been decided, 58% of applicants were granted settled status, 41% were granted pre-settled status and 0.7% were other outcomes. Other outcomes included refusals on suitability grounds and withdrawn applications. 

The number of EEA nationals and non-EEA family members who are living in the UK is unknown. Office of National Statistics (ONS) data referenced by the House of Commons Library indicates that there may be between 3.4 and 4 million EEA nationals living in the UK who need to apply. It is unclear how many non-EEA family members who need to apply are living here or how many EEA nationals will enter the UK by the end of the transition period.

The Home Office has published information for local authority staff about what they can do to assist children in care, care leavers, and adults receiving care or who lack capacity, to apply.

A right of appeal has been introduced to enable a person to challenge a refusal or grant of pre-settled status when they believe that they qualify for settled status. This applies to people who made their applications after 11pm on 31 January 2020. 

The Government has recently announced that funding awarded to voluntary sector organisations to support vulnerable people to make applications will be extended until June 2020. Additional funding will be available for the financial year 2020-21 and a tender process will be opening soon. Local authorities may apply for this funding. 

Implications for councils 
Although it is positive that a high number of applications have already been made to the EU Settlement Scheme, councils have reported that particular groups have faced difficulties making applications and there are concerns that many vulnerable people and children, as well as council staff who are working with EEA nationals, are still unaware of the need to apply. 

When an EEA national family or adult with care needs is at risk of homelessness and is ineligible for benefits, social services may be required to provide accommodation and financial support. ​This could apply to a person who is granted pre-settled status or who has not applied by the deadline of 30 June 2021. ​

It is concerning that a significant proportion of people have been granted pre-settled status, as this is a less secure form of status and comes with fewer entitlements than settled status. People with pre-settled status may not eligible for benefits if they are unable to work, for example, due to an illness, disability or caring responsibilities. Where possible, people who qualify for settled status should be assisted to evidence their residence so they can obtain this, rather than accepting pre-settled status. 

It is highly advisable to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme sooner rather than later to limit the risk that the person may be incorrectly refused benefits or access to other services. During the grace period (between 1 January and 30 June 2021), there will be two groups of EEA nationals who do not have immigration documentation but will need to be distinguished by decision makers due to having different entitlements to employment, benefits and other services: (1) people who qualify under the EU Settlement Scheme but have not yet applied and (2) people who enter the UK through e-gates as visitors after 1 January 2021, who have no entitlement to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. ​

A person who fails to apply by 30 June 2021 may lose their employment and entitlements to services. It is unclear under what circumstances the Home Office will accept late applications. 

Resources for councils
With just over a year to go before the deadline to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, councils need to continue to raise awareness amongst affected residents and staff who are working with EEA nationals, and take steps to identify and assist vulnerable people and hard to reach groups who may need to apply. 

We have updated the following resources to help councils to establish what action may need to be taken to assist vulnerable residents to apply and what support options an EEA national may have if they are at risk of homelessness: