A helpline for EU citizens who are trying to prove to landlords or employers their right to remain in the country after Brexit has meant the government has come under fire over the 69p-a-minute charge.
Callers to the ‘view and prove’ immigration status telephone number, 0300-790 6268, also had to preauthorise a potential £5 credit on a bank card before talking to an assistant.
Campaigners for the 3million group have written to the future borders and immigration minister, Kevin Foster, to protest against the charges that amount to £10.35 for 15 minutes of assistance.
They say the charges are ‘contrary to the assurances given’ in the high court recently and are ‘causing a lot of distress’. The Home Office has now admitted the charge was due to a ‘technical error’ after investigating the complaint received from the 3million.
The activists’ group failed in its court application earlier this year to force the government to issue EU citizens a physical document to prove their right to work and live in the UK after Brexit.
At the hearing, however, the Home Office told the judge that ‘the defendant will not charge for calls’.
Under the post-Brexit system, the Home Office generates ‘shared codes’that last for 30 days to allow EU citizens evidence of their right to rent or work in the UK.
The 3million says it is concerned that the helpline is needed by those who are not digitally literate and those who are confronted with technical glitches trying to prove their status in the first place.
“This will have dramatic consequences not only for those who struggle with digital technology, but also for those who are seeing technical glitches with their digital status, and for those who can’t persuade employers, landlords or other service providers to engage with it”.
Spokesperson Maike Bohn said: “The only mitigation provided by the Home Office is an overburdened telephone helpline, and it adds insult to injury to be charging someone over £10 for a 15-minute call, on top of their regular call charges”.
In its letter to Foster, the 3million cited three types of technical bugs preventing EU citizens getting on with their daily lives including error messages for those who have updated the ID documents or contact details.
The group also told him the ‘view and prove’ service erroneously presents those who have been in the country for less than five years and have pre-settled status as limited to six months status.
The Home Office, after receiving the letter, discovered a technical fault had meant callers were charged. They said the charges would be stopped and the menu offered to callers would reroute them to the free service.
“EU citizens seeking support via the support resolution centre can do so for free. The SRC has helped millions of people with their applications and continues to do so every day”.
“We have identified a technical error that means a very small percentage of customers calling the UK Visas & Immigration resolution centre may have been charged. This will be resolved immediately.