Citizens’ Rights Contents

Summary

The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the European Union, signed by the Parties on 24 January 2020, set out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Among its provisions are Articles on citizens’ rights. In this report we consider the mechanisms by which the UK and EU Member States have given effect to those rights, with particular focus on the Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme, launched on 31 March 2019. The deadline for applications to the Settlement Scheme was 30 June 2021.

We welcome the Home Office’s achievement in encouraging and processing over 5.4 million applications from eligible citizens for a new residence status in the UK, ahead of the 30 June deadline. This was accomplished in the face of considerable challenges, including the larger than expected size of the EU population living in the UK and the difficulties of delivering such a scheme in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We further endorse the central principle of the Scheme that looks for reasons to grant new residence status for EU citizens, rather than reasons to refuse it.

At the same time, our report highlights that there are still issues to be resolved with both the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) and those systems operated by EU Member States. In respect of the EUSS, our concerns include the lack of a physical document as proof that an EU citizen has successfully accessed their rights under the Scheme. While there are certain advantages to the Scheme’s digital-only system, the absence of a physical document creates the risk that many EU citizens, including the elderly and those who are digitally challenged, will struggle to prove their rights. We also have concerns over the two million EU citizens who have been granted pre-settled status under the Scheme. These individuals must successfully apply for settled status after five years if they are to remain in the UK, and may miss the opportunity to do so if they do not receive reminders from the Government to make those applications. With many individual deadlines rather than one deadline for millions, it may be difficult for the Government to replicate its initial success in this next phase of the Scheme.

We also call on the Government to clarify how they will deal with applications under the Scheme that were made after the 30 June 2021 deadline. The Government has said that it will take a “generous” approach “for the time being” but late applicants, who are at risk of losing their rights, need more certainty.

Across these and other issues, we found that EU citizens from vulnerable groups are particularly at risk–whether of missing the initial deadline, of struggling to prove their status once they have it, or of failing to switch from pre-settled status on time. The Government has taken steps to support vulnerable groups, but we recommend further action is needed. How the Government addresses these matters will be an indicator of the Scheme’s overall success and a touchstone of the UK’s new relationship with the EU.

In respect of the systems operating in EU Member States to allow UK citizens to access their rights, the picture is currently mixed. While the data shows that some EU countries are progressing well with their applications from UK citizens, there are clearly problems in others, including with communications to UK residents about how those systems work and problems with the rollout of biometric residence cards. We urge the Government to continue its positive engagement so far with both the EU institutions and bilaterally with Member States to ensure these issues are resolved.

As with EU citizens in the UK, some UK citizens in the EU are more at risk of losing their rights than others, particularly those in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and digitally challenged. We therefore call on the Government to seek to extend its support for vulnerable UK citizens via the UK Nationals Support Fund beyond the 12 EU Member States where it currently operates.

To date, the UK and the EU have demonstrated a positive approach to dealing with citizens’ rights issues, which is welcome. As both sides begin a new relationship following the UK’s departure from the EU, we urge them to continue this constructive approach to a subject that has a profound impact on the lives of so many individuals living in the UK and in the EU.





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