Report by Granada Reports journalist Emma Sweeney
A "Windrush-style scandal" could be waiting to happen as some EU nationals struggle to apply for settled status, campaigners have warned.
With just six months to go until the deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme, Afzal Khan, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, says some vulnerable groups are finding the largely online-only system too difficult to navigate.
EU Nationals now have to apply for settled or pre-settled status if they want to continue living legally in a post Brexit Britain.
Mr Khan's concerns are echoed by local charity Europia who have been working to encourage people to apply for the scheme, which is designed to guarantee the rights of EU, EEA or Swiss citizens and their families, to continue living and working in the UK after 30 June 2021.
But campaigners are worried the message isn't getting through to everyone. They say this could create a similar scenario to the Windrush scandal, where people who have lived and worked in the UK for many years could suddenly find themselves without a right to work, higher education, free healthcare, state benefits and accommodation.
Afzal Khan MP, Labour, Manchester Gorton
In response, the Home Office said: “Conflating the EU Settlement Scheme with Windrush is unhelpful and wrong, and this inaccurate scaremongering could deter people from applying and joining the 4.1million who have already secured their status.
“We have learnt from Windrush that people need evidence of their status, and this is precisely what the EU Settlement Scheme provides. It’s free and easy to apply, but we have provided up to £17 million to charities and local authorities to support those who need help."
Settled and pre-settled status
If a citizen's application is successful, they will obtain a settled or pre-settled status, which can be viewed and updated online.
Settled status refers to citizens who have lived in the UK for a continuous five year period and started living in the UK by 31 December 2020.
The settled status means that they can reside in the UK forever without re-applying, however this can be taken away if they leave the UK for a period of five consecutive years.
The latest Government figures broken down by local authorities show that so far, around 137, 470 people in the North West have acquired settled status. A further 123,700 EU nationals have been granted pre-settled status. These numbers are expected to rise even further when the next group of figures are released in Feb, 2021.
Pre-settled citizens are people who started living in the UK before 31 December 2020 and do not have five years' continuous residence.
The pre-settled status will allow people to reside in the UK for five years, where they can re-apply for a settled status after this period.
If an application is unsuccessful, people may be able to apply for an administrative review of the decision and can apply again at any time until 30 June 2021.
However, the UK Government is unsure of exactly how many EU nationals are living in the UK and this makes it difficult to track the progress of the scheme.
Who can apply?
Anyone who is from an EU country, currently living in the UK, and wants to carry on living in the UK, should apply for the EU Settlement Scheme.
This also includes children who may have been born in the UK but are not British citizens.
Read more about the scheme and who can apply on the UK government website.
Why have some people still not applied?
There are many reasons why a number of people are yet to apply for settlement status: some may be unaware of the scheme, others may lack the right paper work to complete the process, some may find the online only application process inaccessible and complicated.
Raluca Enescu from the Works Right Centre, explains why some people may be reluctant to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme before now.
Kush Chottera, Executive Director, Europia said: "EU nationals living in the UK are notbeing seen as a priority during and after Brexit. We have taken this upon ourselves to support local authorities and organisations during these extremely difficult times when they are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
"Europia has published vital statistical work analysing Home Office data to find out more about who is applying and receiving status in each local authority in Greater Manchester. Armed with detailed community intelligence, we hope to help shape their policy response and service provision to reach as many EU nationals as possible."
Julie Ward, human rights campaigner and Labour Co-op MEP for NW England 2014-20 said: “The EU citizens who have made their life in the UK did so in good faith enjoying the rights that all citizens benefited from across 28 Member States as part of EU fundamental freedoms. Their lives have been thrown into confusion since the 2016 referendum causing great anxiety with many still uncertain about their future.
"Authorities in Greater Manchester have always been clear that EU citizens are welcome and valued for the contribution they make to our local economy and cultural life. I urge all EU citizens to ensure they act in a timely manner to ensure they achieve 'settled status' before the June 30th deadline."