Published On: 10th March 2022Categories: Brexit, Migrants' rights

In 2019-21 PILC supported hundreds of EU citizens and their family members to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).  We’ve continued to monitor the scheme post-deadline, assisting clients to challenge delays and refusals and access proof of their immigration status through the Home Office’s ‘view and prove’ portal.

As we and others predicted, the government’s refusal to issue physical proof of status has had  disastrous results for some of the poorest EU citizens living in the UK. In many cases, including where homeless people need to prove their status to access vital social assistance, the consequences are still unfolding.

PILC EU rights adviser Kasia Makowska explains more.

I’ve assisted over 700 homeless and insecurely housed EU citizens and qualifying family members with EU Settlement Scheme applications. Unfortunately, getting pre-settled or settled status for these clients often isn’t the end of the story in terms of securing their rights to housing and welfare support after Brexit.  

The people I support are at high risk of homelessness, including rough sleeping, and other forms of social exclusion. Many lack basic computer literacy and access to technology, while others speak little or no English.

My clients therefore find it much harder than the average person to navigate the intricacies of digital bureaucracy. I’d estimate that only 10-15% would be able to use the EUSS digital portal without help from me or a friend or family member.

Meanwhile, despite some improvement over the past year, many local-authority housing officers and charity support workers still seem to be unclear about how to check an EU citizen’s immigration status using the online system. This is leading to vulnerable individuals missing out on vital welfare support and, in some cases, being trapped in destitution

Tales from my caseload

BW, an Estonian citizen, was referred to me for assistance with a settled status application through the Greater London Authority’s scheme for rough sleepers accommodated on an emergency basis during Covid-19. During our first meeting, I went to the EUSS phone app to start BW’s application, only to discover that the app had already been used to apply for settled status.

When we called the Settlement Resolution Centre we found out that BW had had settled status for a year. Neither the client nor the staff in in her emergency accommodation knew that her immigration status had been resolved and that BW was therefore eligible to apply for mainstream housing support.

In another case, AZ—a Polish national—submitted an EUSS application and was granted settled status two days later. However, she missed the email in her inbox and so didn’t realise her application had been successful. AZ therefore failed to include proof of settled status in her submissions when applying for Universal Credit (UC). As a result, she was deemed not to have a qualifying right to reside and her UC application was refused. AZ was left without benefits for six months and became destitute during this period.

‘Can I use your email address?’

In other cases, we are finding that people’s immigration status is showing up incorrectly on the Home Office’s system as the result of multiple applications being submitted. Last year I was contacted by a local authority about a client, CT, who was living in their temporary accommodation (TA). CT needed proof of settled status in order to remain in her TA and access benefits, but did not know how to access this proof.

When I tried to help CT generate a ‘share code’ to prove her status, her online status came up as ‘Certificate of Application’ rather than ‘Settled Status’. Upon investigation, it emerged that a support organisation had submitted two EUSS applications on her behalf. One of these applications had been granted, but the other was still listed as ‘outstanding’. CT was advised to withdraw the outstanding application, which I assisted her to do, but three months later her application was still listed on the system as ‘outstanding’, despite several calls to the Home Office.

There are also issues with people being unable to prove their immigration status because they can’t access the online system. While supporting DS, a Polish national, with his housing and welfare issues, I tried to help him log into his account to generate proof of his settled status. However, we were unable to do so as the email address linked to the account was the private email of the person who had originally helped DS apply to the EUSS. DS had also lost access to the mobile number linked to his account. He was eventually able to recover his account but only after weeks of delay.

Not knowing how to use ‘view and prove’ is also making it harder for some EU citizens to find and retain employment. I was recently contacted by two Polish clients, who told me that employment agencies were refusing to consider them for jobs. Upon investigation, I discovered that both had been asked for a ‘share code’ and didn’t know how to provide one.

In another instance I assisted a Polish client, GN, who has complex needs, to submit a late EUSS application. GN doesn’t speak English and hasn’t seen his allocated social worker for two years.

When GN was granted settled status, I offered to set up an email address for him so he could keep track of his status. But he didn’t feel able to manage proving his immigration status on his own—and asked if I could give my work email address instead. I had to say no, explaining that he will need access to his status for the rest of his life. It seems unlikely that GN will be able to prove his status when he needs to.

A disaster to begin with’

A physical ID wouldn’t have precluded all of these issues. It’s unfortunately extremely common for rough sleepers to lose personal items such as phones and identity documents while on the streets, or to have these items stolen.

This is one reason why making access to services and social assistance dependent on a person’s immigration status is a disaster to begin with.

But the simplicity of a physical ID would have helped. Apart from anything else, it’s (unfortunately!) a system that people are used to and understand. A digital-only system further entrenches the kind of structural inequality that already renders people with lower levels of English, digital literacy and social capital less likely to access their rights.

The bureaucratic issues I’ve described in this blog usually don’t make headlines, not least because they’re fairly boring to read and write about. But the effects on people’s lives are real and—as in the Windrush Scandal—potentially catastrophic.

In a well-functioning democracy those in power would work that to ensure the basics of life, including housing and a decent standard of living, were easily accessible by everyone. (This is the vision we outline in our 2021 research report on the rights of homeless EU citizens after Brexit.) By contrast, and as JL, a PILC client, puts it, ‘[t]his system was created for people with easy lives’.

the3Million has been running a campaign to #fixthedigitalstatus