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Protecting citizens’ rights must be a priority – deal or no deal, says Committee

20 October 2020

A cross-party report, agreed unanimously by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, urges the UK and EU to ensure that the citizens' rights protections in the Withdrawal Agreement are fully implemented for UK nationals living across the EU and EU citizens in the UK. This includes their right to live and work in the country where they reside.

The report’s key recommendations include:

For UK nationals living in the EU

  • UK nationals need to be made aware of what they need to do to secure their rights

Both the UK Government and the 27 EU member states are responsible for ensuring all relevant information is available and communicated to those whose situation may change. The priority must be to ensure as many people as possible understand what they need to do to secure their rights, and that as few as possible are inadvertently deprived of these rights because they did not act in time, or did not know what they had to do.

The UK Government has been working through Embassies and consulates and coordinating outreach events with host governments. It has also funded organisations to support UK nationals in the EU through the National Support Fund (NSF).

The Government needs to monitor the effectiveness of the support provided by the organisations funded through the NSF and set out a strategy for reallocating support and resources where it becomes apparent the demand is increasing. This is particularly important in countries which have chosen a "constitutive system" that requires a new application to be made by a specific deadline in order to secure their rights.

The Committee calls on the Government, alongside the European Commission and each Member State, to monitor the processes in each state, and ensure they are simple and avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens.

  • Deadlines for UK citizens to apply for resident status should be extended where necessary

The report sets out the range of requirements for UK citizens seeking resident status in EU countries. Of the thirteen countries that have decided to require a new application, some have opened their application processes early, and seven have already extended the deadline beyond 30 June 2021. The Committee urges other Member States to consider extending the deadline if it becomes apparent that large numbers of UK nationals have not applied.

The Committee recommends countries take a pragmatic approach to delays, such as where Covid-19 causes a reduction in their capacity to manage applications.

  • UK nationals should be encouraged to register in host countries

Many British people living in an EU country will already have registered with the relevant authority and will already possess a residence card. This is important as registration is often the first step in securing rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement – such as where the process will ask them to exchange their current residence card for a new one stating they have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.

Some Member States have used their existing data on UK nationals to communicate directly with them about what they need to do to apply. However, the report warns that in countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Greece there are unknown numbers of unregistered UK nationals. The Committee urges the UK Government do everything it can to help them register before the end of the transition period.

For EU citizens in the UK

  • The EU Settlement Scheme has been a significant achievement, but we still do not know how many EU citizens are yet to apply

The report acknowledges that the EU Settlement Scheme has now received over 4 million applications and welcomes the fact that a large percentage of applicants for Settled Status were successful. However, it cautions that the number of EU citizens in the UK who are eligible to apply but have yet to do so remains unknown.

In addition, the report raises concerns about what happens to those EU citizens who apply after the deadline of 30 June 2021 and those who have received Pre-Settled Status, but who then do not apply for settled status when it expires.

Both situations risk individuals becoming unlawfully resident. The Government needs to publish its guidance for caseworkers on how to deal with late applications, and how it will inform citizens with Pre-Settled Status that they are able to apply for an upgrade to Settled Status.

For late applications, i.e. after 30 June 2021, the committee urges ministers not to apply an unduly restrictive approach and to look for reasons to grant status rather than to refuse it. 

  • Vulnerable individuals and groups should be given more support

The report highlights difficulties faced by some EU citizens in applying for for Settled Status, such as language barriers, poor digital skills, and problems with producing documentary evidence to demonstrate their identity or length of residence in the UK. It also underlines the presence of hard-to-reach, eligible individuals and groups with complex requirements. The number of applications being refused is increasing, and some groups are disproportionately being refused, such as non-EEA family members and Zambrano carers.

Communication with, and support for, these citizens, either directly from Government or through existing community organisations, must be prioritised as the 30 June 2021 deadline approaches.

  • EU citizens in the UK should be able to apply for a physical document

The Committee endorses calls for EU citizens in the UK to be given the option of applying for a physical document to demonstrate their residency status, in addition to the digital format they currently have.

From 1 July 2021, EU citizens will have to rely upon their digital status in a range of situations to demonstrate that they have the right to live, work, rent, access benefits, or secure a loan. The person asking them will be used to being presented with a physical document – usually a passport or an ID card. Having a physical document would help in these circumstances.

The Committee calls on the Government to set out how it will monitor and review the rollout of digital checks, arguing that this demonstrates the continuing need for scrutiny of EU citizens’ rights in the UK beyond the end of the transition period. It also asks the Government for an update on progress establishing the planned Independent Monitoring Authority.

Commenting on the report, Committee chair Hilary Benn MP said:

"This Committee and its predecessors have taken a close interest in the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK. This is an incredibly important issue that has affected and will continue to affect the lives of millions. 

Both the UK and EU member states have done much to help ensure that the rights of citizens are protected, but with deadlines approaching those who have not yet applied need to know that they must do so. That’s why the necessary information must be communicated clearly and comprehensively.

Whatever happens with the negotiations, nobody who has built a life outside their country of birth should run the risk of being forced to leave simply because they inadvertently slipped through the net by not claiming the rights that are theirs."

Further information

Image: CCO