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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 795: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the EU Settlement Scheme.

My Lords, the EU settlement scheme opened on a trial basis at the end of August and a second pilot phase ended on 21 December. In the light of positive progress, we commenced the wider public testing of the scheme on 21 January. The EU settlement scheme will be fully open by 30 March.

My Lords, we recently had a letter dated 11 February from Caroline Nokes, the Minister for Immigration, telling us that everything was wonderful and that it was all going okay. This is just not true. The Home Office seems to be living in a bubble of its own making. When will it start listening to many of the 3.6 million EU citizens in this country struggling to make sense of a technical and bureaucratic shambles that is not fit for purpose? The internet is awash with frustration, anger, fear and distress in relation to the obstacles in accessing the system, ridiculous demands for evidence, obviously wrong decisions—decisions made by machines—and no proper means of appeal. Is it not time to scrap the scheme and start afresh with a simple system based on a simple acceptance of the rights of people already living here?

My Lords, the whole construction of the scheme was designed to be as simple and unbureaucratic as possible. To date we have had 100,000 applications in total. As regards the plethora of evidence that people need to supply, in fact they need to supply only three pieces of evidence: first, their identity, secondly their residency and thirdly the absence of criminal convictions.

My Lords, the scrapping of the fee was very welcome news when it was announced by the Prime Minister. A number of the 100,000 people who have so far applied will have paid a fee. Can the Minister tell the House how many of them have so far been reimbursed, as the Prime Minister promised?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that nobody has to pay a fee any longer. However, while the system for returning the fee is in train, people are continuing to pay the fee and will have it reimbursed—although that does not seem to have deterred people from applying for the settlement scheme.

My Lords, does my noble friend not remember that as early as July 2016 your Lordships’ House advised that it would be a good idea to take the moral high ground and give a guarantee to the 3 million-plus EU citizens living in this country? Even arch-Brexiteers such as my noble friend Lord Forsyth spoke up in favour of that approach. Does she not regret that the Government neglected to take your Lordships’ advice?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has always been clear that the 3.6 million EU citizens will be welcome here, and, whether it is a deal or no-deal situation, they will be able to establish their status here through the EU settlement scheme.

My Lords, how valid was the pilot scheme launched by the Government, given that they chose a very easy sample?

I do not know whether the sample was easy. It was taken from the north-west of England, which I was very pleased about, and involved staff and students at 15 institutions. Of those who applied, 65% received settled status and 35% pre-settled status.

My Lords, in the pilot scheme 30% were granted only pre-settled status, which lasts for just five years. One problem seems to be that the automatic checks by HMRC and the DWP are not validating a lot of people who have been here for longer than five years, particularly the self-employed. The danger is that people will find giving supplementary evidence such a hassle that they will settle for just pre-settled status—but that is very dangerous. Can the Minister look into whether the Home Office can send them reminders—as HMRC does with tax returns—that they have to convert that into full settled status?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. She is right that someone with pre-settled status might forget to apply for full settled status. Of course, they have five years in which to do so—but I will certainly take back her constructive point and respond to her in due course.

How are the Government getting on in safeguarding the position of our fellow country men and women living in other European Union countries?

My noble friend is right to point that out. The UK has given that comfort to any EU citizen and I hope that, through the negotiations, our citizens living in the EU will have similar comfort.

My Lords, the Minister has been supportive of this approach and I applaud her for that. However, are the Government not being a tad complacent when they go on about the fact that 100,000 people have already applied? That is about 2% of those eligible to stay. Bearing in mind that the Government keep saying that D-day is 30 March, is there not a long way to go yet, and should we not step up the campaigns?

The noble Lord hits on a point which I myself have raised—that we need to step up some of the public information campaigns to give EU citizens who want to apply for settled status the knowledge of how and where to apply. So he is correct on that point. However, on whether we are being complacent, the answer is no. The beta-testing phases have worked very well and I fully expect that, when the system is up and running properly on 30 March, it will continue to run well.

Can the Minister say a little more about the rights of British citizens who find themselves settled in the EU on 30 March? Will they enjoy onward movement that will allow them to continue to earn a living—if that is indeed the way in which they earn their living?

I certainly hope that that will be the case, and it will be at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind when she is negotiating with our colleagues in the EU.