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Published 28 Sep 2020

Urgent action required to ensure that EEA residents secure future residence rights and avoid destitution

Councils can help identify and assist vulnerable residents to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before the deadline of 30 June 2021.

The Home Office has confirmed that at the end of August, 3.71 million EU Settlement Scheme applications have been concluded. Of these, 57% (2,098,900) have been granted settled status, 41% (1,531,600) were granted pre-settled status and 0.1% (10,900) were refused. 

In a series of guidance documents about the new points-based immigration system, the Government has also set out some details about when and how European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and their family members can enter the UK to visit, study or work, on or after 1 January 2021, when European free movement rights will no longer apply to EEA nationals arriving or living in the UK. 

EEA nationals and their family members who are currently living in the UK, or who arrive before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, only have until 30 June 2021 to submit an application under the EU Settlement Scheme to secure their right to remain in the UK. Failing to do so will mean that they become unlawfully present after 30 June 2021, and will lose their entitlement to work, rent in the private sector, and access to free NHS hospital treatment.

People who still need to apply should consider doing so as soon as possible, as the experience of councils so far has been that it can take a long time for a person to prepare their application, particularly if the person does not have a current passport/ ID document that then has to be obtained from their national embassy.  

Another reason why it is important to apply sooner rather than later, is that benefit and housing eligibility rules are likely to become more complicated during the 'grace period', from 1 January to 30 June 2021. The Government has laid draft regulations before Parliament, which will preserve rights of access to benefits, housing assistance, and chargeable NHS treatment, for a person who is exercising a right to reside under European law immediately before the end of the transition period but who has not yet been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme. As physical evidence of immigration status is not being issued to EEA nationals, and as new arrivals who are subject to the new immigration rules will usually enter the UK through e-gates, there is a high risk that incorrect decisions about benefit and housing entitlement will be made if a person is unable to clearly demonstrate their status after 31 December 2020.

However, it is not only people who fail to apply in time who may fall into destitution or be at risk of homelessness, as EEA nationals who are granted pre-settled status will be ineligible for benefits if they are not able to work. With such a significant proportion of applicants to the EU Settlement Scheme being granted pre-settled status, this remains a real risk, particularly as the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to be felt. Excluding people from mainstream benefits could have an impact on councils when social services duties are engaged to provide accommodation and financial support to families, or adults with care needs, with councils already seeing a small rise in the number of EEA nationals receiving support, as documented in our NRPF Connect data report for 2019-20

Settled status is a more secure form of status and will enable the person to meet benefit and housing eligibility requirements, so it is important to be aware that: 

  • When an EEA national has completed five years’ residence, it is advisable for them to try and evidence this in order to obtain settled status, rather than accepting a default grant of pre-settled status. 
  • When a person is granted pre-settled status but thinks that they should qualify for settled status, they can challenge this by submitting an administrative review and/or appeal.
  • A person with pre-settled status can apply for settled status as soon as they have completed five years’ continuous residence in the UK. They do not need to wait until their pre-settled status is due to expire, although they must ensure that their application for settled status is made before their leave to remain expires. 

Councils can use the engagement they currently have with some formerly hard to reach groups, including people who are being accommodated on public health grounds during the Covid-19 pandemic, as an opportunity to ensure that people who need to apply are aware of what they need to do and are directed to appropriate assistance to make their application. However, there are still concerns and gaps in Home Office guidance about how people with significant care needs or who lack capacity can be supported to apply. 

Council officers can provide residents with general information about the EU Settlement Scheme and signpost people to information or to legal advice providers. They can also help people who are receiving social services’ support, or who are otherwise engaged with services, to gather documentary evidence for their applications or apply for nationality documentation from their embassies.

Councils can refer to our detailed factsheet for more information about supporting EEA nationals to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. Social services teams are encouraged to record details on NRPF Connect of EEA national families and adults with care needs who are receiving accommodation and financial support so that we can continue to monitor the impact of benefit restrictions for EEA nationals with pre-settled status and the upcoming changes to the immigration rules. 

This article was originally published on 23 September 2020 and has been updated to include a reference to the draft Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.