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Settled Status for EU Citizens: Internet Access

Volume 674: debated on Monday 23 March 2020

5. What support her Department is making available to EU citizens who are unable to use the internet to apply for settled status to continue living in the UK. (901681)

We are committed to giving all EU citizens living in the UK the certainty they need. Last week, I announced that 3 million people have been granted status under the European settlement scheme. We have made available a further £8 million of funding to help vulnerable EU citizens to apply. For those who are unable to access the support mechanisms in place, including assisted digital, a paper application form will be made available.

I have met a number of constituents and organisations who are providing vital support to vulnerable people applying for EU settled status. Some of the stories they have shared about the difficulties faced by those challenged by an internet-based system, such as people with dementia, are harrowing. While the news that funding to support those groups has been extended until this June is welcome, with a bidding process until June 2021, many vulnerable people are currently only able to secure pre-settled status. They will be required to apply again for settled status within five years. Where should those individuals turn when the funding to support them is cut off?

As the hon. Gentleman reflected, we are making funding available, and the current grant-funded organisations will continue until the new funding comes in, one of which is Fife Migrants Forum in his constituency. As with any Member, I invite him, once the current situation is over, to visit the team in Liverpool who are dealing with the European settlement scheme to see at first hand the lengths to which they go to ensure that everyone gets the status they are entitled to.

On behalf of Opposition Members, I offer my profound sympathy to the families of the 289 persons who have died in this unheard-of pandemic.

On the settlement scheme, we obviously welcome the fact that 3 million persons have been successfully processed, but Ministers will be aware that the number of rejections is on a rising curve, with 300 last month. That is increasingly because of problems with documentation. Last week, the House debated the Windrush lessons-learned review and one of the problems at that time was documentation. Is it not time that the Government ended the uncertainty hanging over the heads of EU citizens and guaranteed the rights of EU citizens in the UK?

A very small number has been rejected—just 300 out of over 3 million applications—and the core reason for saying no to someone is criminality. Where there are eligibility issues, people can make a free re-application but the evidence levels are quite basic. People must prove their identity; they must prove that they have residence in the UK, particularly for pre-settled status; and they are subject to the eligibility and suitability checks around criminality. Actually, the system is working very well, and again, I extend an invitation to the right hon. Lady to come to meet the team and see at first hand the work that it is doing and why this has been such a success. It is the biggest documentation of immigration status in history and it is going well.