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European Union Settlement Scheme

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on the implementation of the European Union Settlement Scheme.

My Lords, the EU settlement scheme opened fully on 31 March and makes it easier for resident EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members to get the status they need to remain here after we leave the EU. The system is performing well and, according to the most recent internal figures, nearly 1 million applications have been received.

My Lords, that is good news, but there is still a very long way to go. As the Minister knows, if you have not been here for five years, you get pre-settled status. On 20 May, Caroline Nokes said in a Commons Written Answer:

“We are currently working hard on a number of enhancements to the EU Settlement Scheme including the functionality to support individuals who currently hold pre-settled status to apply for settled status once they become eligible”.

Is the Minister aware that there was publicity only over the weekend because people are finding it difficult to use the app that they must use to convert their pre-settled status into settled status. Caroline Nokes promised that it would all be sorted within six weeks; that was two months ago. What is happening about that and can the Minister tell us what happens to people who forget to apply for settled status once they have their pre-settled status and the time arrives?

In answer to the noble Lord’s first point—that we have a long way to go—given the number of citizens we are talking about, it sounds to me as though we are almost a third of the way there. In answer to his point about pre-settled status, interestingly enough, just before we came into the Chamber, I had a conversation with his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about a question she had raised with me previously on a reminder system for people coming to the end of their pre-settled status. That is certainly being worked on. He also asked me about the app. I am aware of the problem and we intend that from the end of July, it will be possible for people with pre-settled status to apply online to convert it to settled status as soon as they become eligible.

My Lords, I understand that there are 2.5 million people of European Union descent working in the UK who have still to apply for settled status. What happens to those people in just over two and a half months when we have Brexit?

I hope the noble Lord will be comforted to hear that people will have at least until 31 December 2020 to apply, which is a significant way off. It is pleasing to note that, three months into the scheme, the number of people who have applied is significant—as I said, nearly a third of the total.

My Lords, does not the Minister believe that there should, equally, be a right of appeal following an unsuccessful application under a—God forbid—no-deal scenario, as there is currently in the event of a deal? There is no good reason why this should not be the case. Will the Government look into that?

I understand that an administrative review is allowed and costs £80, but the noble Earl asked about something different, which was in the event of no deal. I will check when I go back that it is the same—that, deal or no deal, the cost and the process are the same.

My Lords, the EU Sub-Committee covering this law met the Minister this morning. There seems to be a view that the technology is infallible. Is there not therefore a danger that the law of technology will trump the rule of law? The main complaint which the committee has found concerns the lack of physical proof that a person has been granted settled status. The Government have stubbornly refused to alter that, even if there were to be payment. What is the rationale behind that refusal?

I think the noble Lord is referring to automated decision-making. If the report is the same one that I am thinking of, it is wrong: there is no automated decision-making in the settlement scheme. Each application is checked by a caseworker, which I hope will give the noble Lord comfort. We allow applicants to choose, during the application process, whether they would like the evidence requirement for their continuous residence in the UK to be supported by government data checks. Those checks are optional and triggered only when a person enters their national insurance number on the application. The applicant may supply evidence in other forms should they wish to do so.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that transparency is important and particularly difficult to achieve in a scheme that is largely, if not completely, automated and uses algorithms. What information will the Home Office publish about its evaluation of the workings of the scheme? I include in that the work being done by the organisations receiving funding to advise vulnerable applicants, especially as—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong about this but it is important—I believe that their contracts include a gagging clause.

I cannot comment on the last point made by the noble Baroness and I will have to write to her on whether that is the case. She will of course remember the beta testing scheme that was in place before the whole thing went live; we will review how that process went. Part and parcel of that review will be the total number of successful applications made, as well as where things possibly went wrong.

My Lords, why do the Government think that the EU Commission refused our original offer of continuing residence for the EU’s 3.5 to 4 million people living here in return for its agreement that our 1.2 million people could go on living there?

The noble Lord has raised an important point and there has been a lot of discussion in this House about it. At the time we did what we thought was right and, yes, it would have been nice had it been reciprocated.