Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens in the UK face legal limbo on 1st July with their right to rent a home, work or continue in retirement at risk.
With days to go before the government’s deadline for EU and EEA nationals and their children to apply for settled or pre-settled status, a report from UK in a Changing Europe warns of the dangers ahead for those who do not apply by 30th June.
The academic campaign group is concerned that some who have applied but are still awaiting a decision from the Home Office – including children and the retired – could face difficulties if they cannot prove their status when they try to access the NHS or travel.
Latest official statistics show 320,000 people are still waiting a decision on their status, settled status for those who have been in the country for more than five years and pre-settled status for those in the country for fewer than five.
The UK in a Changing Europe report, titled Brexit and Beyond, warned: “If applicants cannot demonstrate they have a ‘right to reside’ they will lose their rights immediately, even if their application is valid”.
“This is likely to impact most severely upon vulnerable applicants with complicated cases. Given delays in processing applications this difference in treatment could be quite significant”.
The government has pledged that those on the waiting list do not need to worry and a ‘pragmatic and flexible approach’ will be taken on late applications.
Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe and a professor in EU law at Cambridge University, Catherine Barnard, said people should be aware of the legal importance of having status, despite government reassurances.
“In order to apply for settled or pre-settled status all you needed to be was resident in the country before 31st December. But in order to be protected after 30th June, if you have not got the status, you have to be exercising EU treaty rights which means you have to have been in work, self-employed, a student or a person of independent means”.
She went on to say: “This means that children, the retired, or spouses of a EU citizen who are from a non-EU country who have applied for but have not been granted status could be in difficulty”.
“The other cohort at risk are those who did not know they needed to apply for citizenship, which could include older adults who have been in the country for decades and do not believe the scheme applies to them”.
UK in a Changing Europe analysis showed that just 2% of the 5.4 million applications for status are in the over 65’s category.
Other vulnerable categories highlighted by 45 charities last week included victims of violence, homeless people, children and adults in care.
Barnard said: “On one level the EU settled status is a massive success in terms of providing a quick and efficient system, which has reached huge numbers of people. But it is about to enter a phase that will require sensitive management where the government will need to show pragmatism and flexibility in dealing with difficult cases”.
From 1st July landlords and employers will also face fines if they rent to or employ people without status or have applied for status, with representatives of tenanted properties last year warning that some owners will just go for the easy option and rent to British and Irish people who have automatic rights.
Under legislation about to be updated, landlords will be required to perform follow-up checks on tenants with pre-settled status and can be fined up to £3,000 for breaking the law, while employers can be fined up to £15,000, with discounts for reporting people to the Home Office early.
Kevin Foster, the future borders and immigration minister, urged those who have not applied to do so by 30th June, promising that rights would be protected for those in the backlog.
“We have already confirmed that someone who has applied to the EU settlement scheme by 30th June deadline, but has not had a decision by then, will have their rights protected until their application is decided”.