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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 663: debated on Monday 15 July 2019

3. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the EU settlement scheme application process. (911919)

EU citizens are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues, and we want them to stay. The settlement scheme is performing well. The latest published statistics show that more than 800,000 applications have been received and the majority of people are finding it easy to apply. Additional support is available to those who are vulnerable, or who do not have the appropriate access, skills or confidence to apply online.

Instead of implementing a scheme that makes EU citizens—many of whom have lived here for a great many years—unlawfully resident if they fail to apply by December 2020, will the Minister introduce a declaratory system whereby people apply for proof of settled status rather than the right to stay?

A declaratory system that did not require EU citizens to obtain status and provide evidence of it would risk causing confusion, especially among the most vulnerable, and people might struggle to prove their status in years to come. There would also be a risk of confusion among employers and service providers, and the system might impede EU citizens’ access to benefits and services to which they are entitled.

The vast majority of people I hear from say that the settled status scheme is working very well and is easy to use. Many receive responses within a few hours of submitting their applications. However, it is a bit frustrating that the service is still not available on Apple devices such as phones; can the Minister update us on when it might be?

It is not just anecdotal information that tells us that people are finding it easy and quick to apply; we know that most applications are settled within one to four working days. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been tireless in pursuing the issue raised by my hon. Friend, and we are very hopeful that the app will be available on Apple devices in the autumn.

There is a significant eastern European community in Enfield and other parts of London. Sections of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish and Roma communities can be hard to reach, and some have limited English language skills. Community representatives are concerned about individuals who have worked in the grey economy as cleaners or handymen, or for unscrupulous employers, being able to supply the right paperwork. What further steps is the Department putting in place to support these communities and to ensure that everyone can access, and apply to, the scheme?

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office has provided up to £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary and community-based organisations specifically to help the vulnerable people to whom she refers. I was pleased to visit the East European Resource Centre and to have the opportunity to speak to a group of long-standing UK residents about the support available. She references the grey economy; we do not wish to see anybody working in the grey economy, but we recognise that there will be those who do. The Home Office is absolutely prepared to accept a wide range of evidence of people’s stay in the UK, including tenancy agreements or letters from health providers with whom they have been in contact. This is absolutely about working with individuals. The EU Settlement Resolution Centre is up and running, and is incredibly well staffed. I was pleased to visit it, to see the help that it can give to individuals.

There is a seeming desire among some Opposition Members for the EU settlement scheme to be a complete failure, but will my right hon. Friend again confirm that this is a successful scheme and that take-up has been positive? If Opposition Members continue to tell their EU citizen constituents that they will not be able to apply, they are not being helpful.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme has been a success, and it is shocking when hon. Members talk the scheme down. It is working well. We are determined to put in place support for those who are vulnerable, as I said. Later this week, we will see the latest statistics surrounding the scheme, which will show a considerable uplift from the figure of 800,000 reported from the end of May.