Vulnerable and elderly Europeans in UK at risk of losing rights
23 July 2021
The European Affairs Committee has published a report on Citizens’ Rights for UK citizens resident in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. The report examines the mechanisms by which UK and EU Member States have given effect to the citizens’ rights provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, with a particular focus on the Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme, launched on 31 March 2019.
- Report: Citizens’ Rights (HTML)
- Report: Citizens’ Rights (PDF)
- Inquiry: Citizens’ Rights
- European Affairs Committee
The Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was signed by the Parties on 24 January 2020, and contains Articles on citizens’ rights in Part Two. This granted residency rights and the right to work to citizens covered by the Agreement and their family members, along with rights in areas such as social security and healthcare.
The Agreement allows the UK and the 27 EU Member States to decide whether they require EU/UK citizens to apply for their new residency status (known as a ‘constitutive system’) or simply register (known as a ‘declaratory system’). The UK, along with thirteen EU countries, opted to operate a constitutive system, setting deadlines by which EU/UK citizens must apply to retain the rights. The UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme set a deadline of 30 June 2021 by which EU citizens had to apply, and grants eligible applicants from the EU, EEA countries and Switzerland an immigration status (‘settled status’) allowing them to remain in the UK following the end of the transition period.
Although it welcomes the Government’s success in processing over 5.4 million applications so far, the report raises concerns about the status of vulnerable EU citizens in the UK who may have missed the deadline to apply for settled status. Of particular concern in the fact that only two per cent of all applications for the UK Settlement Scheme, which closed on 30 June, are from people aged over 65.
The report calls on ministers to scrap the Scheme’s digital-only approach and allow people awarded ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status the option of a physical document to prove their status and rights in Britain. Without it, EU citizens in the UK may face discrimination in securing employment and rental tenancies. The Committee highlighted that the UK Government has welcomed the EU’s decision to issue a physical document to all UK citizens in Europe while resisting calls to do the same for EU citizens in the UK. It demands the Government explain why it holds these contradictory positions.
While the Committee welcomes existing government support for vulnerable people to apply for ‘settled status’, it says that the best way to help them access their rights is to ensure protections are in place for those making late applications. The report says that current protections for those making late applications may not be sufficient, and that greater clarity and more comprehensive legal safeguards are needed. This is particularly relevant to the more than 2 million EU citizens who have lived in the UK for less than five years and have been granted ‘pre-settled status’, but who will then have to apply for ‘settled status’ in the future if they wish to stay. People in this position will have their own deadline, rather than the publicised national one for the Settlement Scheme on 30 June, , and so may be more likely miss it. Applicants could be treated unfairly if lateness is used as a reason to reject that application.
The report also examines the position of UK citizens living the EU, where the picture is currently mixed. Implementation in some EU countries are progressing well, but there are clearly problems in others, including in communicating to UK residents about how they can access their rights. The report urges the Government to continue its positive engagement so far with the EU and Member States to address these issues, and also highlights the need for additional Foreign Office support for UK citizens.