EU citizens are struggling to apply for post-Brexit settled status as the Home Office reaches “breaking point” coping with a last-minute surge in applications.
With three days before the deadline of the EU settlement scheme this Wednesday, campaigners say late applicants are being stuck in online queues as others find it impossible to access advice on the government helpline.
Latest government statistics show a lengthening backlog of applications. Out of 5,605,800 applications only 5,271,300 have so far been processed. Further estimates suggest tens of thousands – possibly up to 150,000 – of others have yet to even apply.
The figures have intensified calls for the UK to follow France’s leadand announce a deadline extension, a move that has ensured British nationals in the country do not risk losing their rights.
On Thursday France added another three months to its 30 June deadline for new post-Brexit residency permits, allowing Britons more time to secure local healthcare, employment and other rights.
However, the UK’s immigration minister, Kevin Foster, has ruled out extending the deadline despite a late surge in applications, thought to be higher than 10,000 a day.
Campaign group the3million, whose name underlines the vast underestimation in the number of EU citizens previously believed to be living in the UK, said they had received numerous reports of people struggling to receive a “certificate of application”, the paperwork that guarantees their rights are protected while their application is pending.
Monique Hawkins of the3million said an indication of how many EU citizens were “scrabbling” to obtain a certificate of application was evidenced by the number of people reporting being stuck in a queue after accessing the government’s settled status website.
Hawkins also said there were grave concerns over the helpline’s ability to cope. To date, the helpline has received 1.5 million calls in addition to more than 500,000 requests for help through an online contact form.
“If people have any kind of problem or question, they can’t get through. Instead, they get a message saying, ‘Sorry, the helpline is full, try again later.’
“There are a lot of complex applications trying to get through which are being stymied by people not being able to get help. The organisations set up to help people are also overrun, the system is at breaking point,” said Hawkins.
Last week the Home Office warned EU citizens living in the UK that they will be issued with a formal 28-day notice if they fail to apply for post-Brexit settled status by the deadline.
The notices will warn them to enter an application or risk losing their rights to healthcare and employment.
Campaigners fear that many EU citizens still remain unaware of the deadline and the threat to their rights.
“There will be a lot of complex and vulnerable people who will also not have been reached because they will not be seeing the last-minute social media material,” said Hawkins.
The Home Office said last week it was redoubling attempts to reach those unaware of the impending rule change, including vulnerable groups such as elderly people and children in care.
Another area of concern is potential delays to the issuing of certificates of application. Despite writing to the Home Office in April, the3million say they still do not know of the legal position if a person has submitted an application but has not received a certificate.
Meanwhile, the backlog of applications has grown to more than 330,000. Although the Home Office says the process usually takes five days, new data reveals that more than two-thirds of EU settlement applicants have been waiting more than a month for a decision, with thousands waiting for over a year.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As we near the 30 June deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme, our Settlement Resolution Centre is seeing a surge in calls but continues to help thousands of customers every day.
“Anyone who has already submitted an application has their rights protected, even if the application is not concluded before the deadline. We want to prioritise those who haven’t yet submitted an application and who need additional support to do so. If you have already made an application, please do not call the Settlement Resolution Centre to check.”