I beg to move.
That this House has considered the EU settled status scheme.
This debate is about Europe, which is apparently why everyone is leaving the Chamber—I do not blame them—but at its heart, it is about people. It is about the millions of people across this country who have come from other European countries and made their lives and livelihoods here. It is about people who the Government have been clear from the off that we want to stay and whom we welcome.
In my constituency of Boston and Skegness, Boston itself has grown by one third over the last eight or 10 years, largely down to immigrants from other European countries. With them in mind, I wanted to secure this important debate, in part—I should be frank—to place on the record some of the success of the EU settlement scheme. My constituents are holding their breath because, in the eyes of some, the scheme will decide whether they can stay in this country and carry on living their lives. That is not the case. For the vast majority of them, it is a formality that will provide certainty and the necessary paperwork to confirm the fact that they live here, are welcome to stay, and will continue—we all hope—to be active and vibrant parts of our communities.
That is in the spirit of the question that I asked the Prime Minister immediately after the vote. Hon. Members should bear in mind that I am the Member of Parliament for a constituency that has a very large number of people from eastern Europe and who cannot vote in parliamentary elections but who I and other MPs in the same situation are privileged to represent. As I have said, some of those constituents are worried, but they should take some heart from the initial stages of the settlement scheme. I do not want to steal all of the Minister’s thunder, but as I am sure she will be keen to emphasise, in the first part of the beta stage, of the 1,000 or so people who took part, over 900 saw their cases resolved in the first 19 days. On average, it took just nine days to complete that process and, of the people from 12 hospital trusts and three universities, 94% said that they had had a good experience.
The process is expanding and another 55,000 people have taken part in the scheme. We stand on the brink of an expansion, with 250,000 more people potentially entering the scheme. While it been a success so far, it is right that we ask questions today rather than allow the scheme to go unscrutinised.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern and those of the residents in my constituency who cannot prove continuous residence or employment and therefore worry that they might be failed by the current process?
I agree with the hon. Lady that there are people for whom proving the five years’ continuous residency is harder, and we need ensure that in future, the scheme treats those vulnerable people appropriately. We should bear in mind that there is, so far, no evidence of failure. Guarding against failure is one of the many things on the Minster’s plate, and we should be careful in a debate such as this not to worry constituents—as some have done unnecessarily—when there is no evidence. We should, of course, bear in mind that it is our duty to stay on our guard on this issue. In that sense, we have to welcome what is clearly a success so far, but as the scheme expands by another quarter of a million people, more people will inevitably be in the position that the hon. Lady describes.
With that in mind, I will highlight two or three positive things, before asking the Minister a number of questions, which I hope she will be able to answer and demonstrate that this is a rare example of a Government IT project that not only has not yet fallen over, but shows that the Government can build systems that are scaleable, that will be successful in the future and, when they are coping with millions of people, that we will be able to look back on as a model. It is worth mentioning in passing that this could be a model for the European Union itself, because to my knowledge at least—perhaps the Minister knows more—there has not yet been a reciprocal arrangement from the EU for British citizens abroad to register in the same way that EU citizens can do here. It might not be a model for Government just in the UK, but for Governments around the world. We should bear in mind that this is not simply about EU citizens in the UK, but about UK citizens in the EU.
I will highlight two positive elements in particular. The system links directly into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and allows people who have the continuous residency mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) to demonstrate that they have the settled status, which clarifies their position and enables them to continue living life in the UK in exactly the same way. It also provides what might be called the “digital signature”, which allows people to easily reassure employers wishing to take them on that they are settled in this country, and which means that they are not in the unfortunate positon of having an identity card or papers that might be stolen by people with bad intentions towards vulnerable people. The system is digital for the convenience of both the user and the Government, but in a way which genuinely benefits the user. There are a number of very good elements.
I have some questions for the Minister, the first of which I hope will be clarified in the future if not today. The reason that the scheme has been in the papers so much is the attitude of Apple and the inability of its phones to support the scheme, which is slowing down the process. We must not pretend that the rival operating system, Android, is the minority—it is a massive part of the market—but Apple should surely be co-operating with the Government and allowing the necessary chip to be used in a way that would make life easier for an awful lot of my constituents and for the constituents of other hon. Members in the Chamber. That is an issue than Apple must address, and I hope the Minister will tell us a little about what will happen on that front.
It would also be useful if the Minister said a little more about the Government will spend the £9 million that they have recently committed to helping vulnerable people use the scheme. That commitment is hugely welcome. Many constituents are not able to use the internet or go online as easily we—or they—might wish, and although I welcome the Government spending to assist those vulnerable people, a little more information on how that money will be spent would be helpful.
I would also like the Minister to indicate what plans are being made for the self-employed or for the dependants of those in the scheme, so that we can have confidence, as it expands beyond the 250,000 people being added in a couple of days’ time. I know that a lot of work has already been done on that front, but it remains the case that the majority of people who will be part of the scheme are not yet part of it. I hope we are in a position to reassure them that their futures are in good hands.
Finally, it is important to say that the report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants makes one legitimate point and several points that I regard as less legitimate. People who have been, for example, the victims of human trafficking might get their fees waived in other circumstances; will that be the case in this scheme? What specific provisions will we make in future as more and more vulnerable people in different categories come into the scheme?
I end as I began, by saying that, contrary to claims made by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, this scheme will give people a number of years to settle their status. It will, I hope, allow them to gain the peace of mind that we all want them to have. As the Prime Minister said, we welcome them as part of our communities and we want them to stay. I and many other MPs are keenly aware that our job is to represent people who live in our constituencies, whether they are able to vote for us or not.
In that vein, I pay particular tribute to the work of Migration Matters and PwC’s Julia Onslow Cole, who helped me a bit with this debate. They have keenly scrutinised the scheme already and been involved in it to some extent. They have been eager to praise it where it is worthy of praise and, like many of my constituents, they hope that the future will go as well as the past. We should also pay tribute to the progress of the scheme so far, and remind our constituents that it is providing a small number now—a large number in future—with the security that they need and deserve. I hope that the message that goes out from the debate today is that this is an example of a Government IT scheme that, for once, is delivering on the ground quickly, providing people with the peace of mind that they deserve.
At its heart, the settlement scheme might not sound as though it is a profoundly emotional matter, but many people worry that the Brexit vote has fundamental consequences even for those who came to this country many years ago. We as a House of Commons should do everything we can to reassure them that they are welcome in the communities in which they have settled and that the Government will not put unnecessary barriers in the way of their future life in this country. With that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) on securing an important debate.
Frankly, it is appalling that people still face uncertainty about settled status. Recently, I held Brexit public meetings throughout my constituency and shared with my constituents all the information available from the Government website. They did not feel reassured, and only asked more questions. The continued uncertainty about settled status is costing communities families who contribute socially and economically. In the public meetings, I met EU nationals who are doctors, nurses, teachers, service workers and many more. They remain terrified by the uncertainty. They still have no answers to the most basic questions about their future.
The uncertainty about settled status has already had a devastating impact on the ability of our local employers to recruit the workforce they need among people from the EU countries. Instead, those people who would be taking up opportunities and jobs in part of the highlands where 20% of our economy is based on tourism, are choosing to go elsewhere in the EU for work. I have heard from countless business owners in my constituency, particularly in tourist towns such as Aviemore, about their staff shortages and the impact of the uncertainty on their businesses.
The uncertainty is particularly frustrating for employers who cannot get a straight answer on the rules. The Home Office has said:
“Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit.”
That contradicts comments made by the Immigration Minister, who only days ago told a parliamentary Select Committee that employers would be required to do
“rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work”.
If they cannot agree among themselves, how do they expect employers to know what to do? We are not talking only about those who want to employ EU nationals but about EU nationals who are themselves business owners.
This is a profoundly personal situation for many people. Shortly after the referendum, I was approached by constituents who ran an import-export agricultural business. The uncertainty about their future has forced them to close their business, and now they are concerned about the fact that they have primary school-age children. They are worried about their status and whether they are able to live and work here at all. Based on the warm words of the UK Government so far about protecting EU citizens, I have tried to reassure them, saying that I imagine that they will be okay in future, but the lack of any evidence to back that up with fact means that the people affected are, and remain, deeply unsettled.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness described the situation as profoundly personal. This is a profoundly personal problem for people, but in my constituency and many like it in Scotland, it is also a profoundly personal situation for the communities in which EU citizens reside as our friends and neighbours. We have the pain of trying to work with them through this Brexit mess.
Is it not true that we might also be failing the most vulnerable? Some of the processes are difficult to understand; some of our more vulnerable EU citizens might not understand them all, and legal aid is not available. Should we request that legal aid be made available to our more vulnerable citizens who find the process difficult to understand?
I completely agree. For public service workers in Scotland, the Scottish Government have stepped in to support EU nationals, but that is something that should simply be done as a matter of course across the nations of the UK, because there is a big problem. The lack of information and clarity from the UK Government has posed a significant problem.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Hollobone. The UK Government need to get a grip on this. People cannot be left in their current state of uncertainty and worry.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) on securing this debate.
My party and I obviously very much regret the need for a settled status scheme at all but, for so long as we are heading down that road, we all have an interest in ensuring that it works as well as it possibly can for the sake of all those caught up in it. I congratulate hon. Members who have raised a number of concerns and issues that still require resolution or clarification, while also commending the scheme’s positive features. I acknowledge that a lot of hard work has gone into the scheme so far, but my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) reflected the overriding and pervading sense still of worry. As an Opposition MP, I will focus on that side of things, rather than on the more positive aspects highlighted by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness.
First, there is the issue of who qualifies for settled status. The Government did a lot of work to build trust, but every now and again they seem to shoot themselves in the foot. The latest problem has been a discrepancy between what is committed to in the statement of intent and what is delivered by the immigration rules. The intent was clear—that all EU citizens bar serious criminals would be allowed status, and only proof of identity and residence and a criminality check were to be required. However, the immigration rules reserve for the Home Office the right to refuse all who are subject to removal for not exercising treaty rights. That comes across as a breach of trust, which should be remedied. This is not a hypothetical matter—29% of permanent residence applications are refused for non-exercise of treaty rights, so hundreds of thousands of people, if not a million, may be caught by that.
I came here from another interesting meeting of the Home Affairs Committee, at which the permanent secretary and the Home Secretary again went out of their way to reassure us that their intention is simply to stick to the statement of intent, and that all that will be required is ID, residence and a criminality check. I put to the Minister what I put to them: why not ensure that the immigration rules reflect what is in the statement of intent and remove this ambiguity and dubiety altogether?
I have not yet established whether certain classes of people will qualify. I have raised some of these issues before, but I am still not clear whether a number of carers will qualify for settled status, including Zambrano, Teixeira, Chen and Ibrahim carers. I raised that at the Home Affairs Committee and was promised a letter, which never arrived, so it would be useful if the Minister clarified that. The number of people involved is very small, but the consequences are just as important for them as for everybody else.
I turn now to cost. My party has long called for the scheme to be free. I do not expect the Minister to announce that that will happen. We welcome the waivers and reductions that have been introduced, but we continue to call for the Government to go further. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness mentioned some vulnerable citizens for whom it would definitely be appropriate to seek a waiver. After all, we are requiring these people to apply to remain in their own homes and jobs. Charging them for the privilege seems to me to be rubbing salt in the wound. Although £65 does not seem a massive amount, we are talking about a family of five having to pay £230. On top of that, at least 100,000 people will have to apply for renewed passports and so on, and there may be other costs related to the scheme. When all those expenses are taken into account, the cost could add up.
My hon. Friend mentioned the £65 charge for applications, but there is a £32.50 fee for children. Does he find that unpalatable?
That is a fair point. I reiterate that our party believes the scheme should be free of charge altogether.
My hon. Friend mentioned the Scottish Government, but there are other employers that want to support their EU employees by paying the fee for them. For example, this morning I met the University of Cambridge, which is among those employers that want to pay for EU employees to achieve settled status. Actually, it will go further and apply for family members, too, so hats off to it. I understand there may be a technical issue with that, but I think employers want to be able to pay the fee as their employees make the application rather having to reimburse them after the event. I do not know whether that is possible, but it would be useful if the Minister commented on that.
There is a concern that if employers reimburse their employees, they will be charged tax by the Treasury. Obviously, that would be awful from all sorts of perspectives. It will cost the University of Cambridge around £1 million to reimburse its EU national employees. For the Treasury to tax that would be wrong in principle, and it would not be good for the Government to be seen to be taxing settled status applications funded by employers. It may also discourage other employers from doing the same. I think the Home Office is keen for as many employers as possible to support their employees through the scheme, so it would be useful to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Again, I raised it with the Home Secretary a few moments ago in the Select Committee. He said he would be willing to raise it with the Treasury, and it would be good if the Minister was on side with that, too.
On evidence and advice, I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this process should prove simple in straightforward cases. However, like the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I am worried about cases that are not simple, such as those involving elderly EU citizens who achieved permanent residence many years ago but are long retired and lack documentation. Why exclude any sort of evidence—evidence of family, friends and other sources, for example—from consideration? Why not allow caseworkers to look at all the evidence in the round in cases where the Home Office’s preferred type of evidence is not submitted?
Some people will have very difficult decisions to make. For example, they may be offered pre-settled status by the Home Office and have the choice of either challenging that and continuing to look for settled status or just going with what the Home Office offers them. Advice will be very important. Although the practical advice offered by the Home Office is helpful, I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey that there should be provision for independent legal advice via legal aid for those who need it but cannot afford it. That will be available in Scotland as normal through the advice and assistance process, but it should be available to all throughout the UK.
More generally, we need a concerted and ongoing outreach scheme to ensure that everyone who needs to apply applies. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness mentioned the £9 million that has been spent so far, but I am dearly worried that that will not be enough. I recently read an alarming paper from the British Medical Association, which suggested that 37% of EU doctors were blissfully unaware of the Government’s settled status scheme. Imagine what that figure is among people who are not brilliant at English, elderly or vulnerable people, and people who never use the internet. There will be many who simply do not think they need to apply, including children who think they are British because they were born here but are not.
That leads us to what is probably the pivotal question: what happens to those who fail to register by the cut-off date? That includes both those who do not apply at all during the initial period and vulnerable people who get pre-settled status but fail to apply during the subsequent five years. Again, that will include children and other vulnerable people, such as trafficking victims. I asked in the Select Committee why we need a cut-off date at all. Surely, the end of the implementation period provides all the motivation we need to encourage people to apply. If even 2% or 3% fail to make it—for most Home Office schemes, we would be lucky to get 80% to 90% of people applying—tens or hundreds of thousands of people who should have applied will not have done so. Those people will face all the same consequences the Windrush generation faced, but the numbers involved absolutely dwarf that horrible episode. There is no need for a cut-off point. People should continue to be able to apply afterwards.
There are significant concerns about those who obtain status not being provided with a proper document. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness talked up the positives of the digital document, but there is another side to that. These people, too, fear the hostile environment. The Residential Landlords Association, the 3 million, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Exiting the European Union Committee have all warned that if a landlord is approached about a property by one person with a British passport and another with a bit of digital code that requires further investigation, the person with the British passport will get the property. We are already seeing that sort of discrimination, and the big fear is that EU nationals with a bit of code will get it 10 times worse.
Finally, we have the issue of enforcing the deal on citizens’ rights. We need to know what form the independent monitoring authority will take. Obviously, it should be independent of the Government. When will it be established? Is there any prospect of that happening prior to the end of the implementation period, given that most applications will be made during that time?
There are many other things I could mention, and lots of issues will continue to arise. My final ask of the Minister is simply that she makes a statement to Parliament early in the new year to update us—and, most importantly, our constituents—about the progress that has been made so we can continue to push and raise concerns on behalf of EU nationals.
It is an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) for securing this important debate.
The UK will leave the EU in four months’ time, but significant uncertainty remains for the 3 million EU citizens in the UK. I will focus on three areas: the Government’s failure to protect EU citizens from the hostile environment; broken promises on citizens’ rights; and the roll-out of settled status so far. To avoid another Windrush scandal, those issues must urgently be addressed.
First, it is clear that EU citizens will be subject to the full force of the Prime Minister’s punitive hostile environment. Will the Minister take this opportunity finally to clarify what checks employers will be required to carry out on EU citizens after Brexit and what evidence will be sufficient for EU citizens to prove their status? At any point during the transition period, will employers be required to differentiate between EU citizens who are already here and those who arrive during the transition period? Will an EU passport or identity card be enough for any EU citizen to prove their right to work until the end of the transition period? Have any business groups raised these issues with the Minister or anyone in her Department?
Right-to-work checks are a fundamental plank of the hostile environment that was directly responsible for Windrush. We know that EU citizens have already faced discrimination in the job and rental markets. The lack of detail from the Government is contributing to this climate of uncertainty and confusion.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many EU citizens are so concerned about their future that there have been cases of people deciding instead to apply for British nationality, to give them an extra guarantee of being able to stay in this country, such is the level of concern to them and their families? I raise an anonymous example from my constituency, of a young, highly-skilled family with three young children, where the mother has had to pay £1,500 to gain British nationality. It has been a huge cost to them and been very distressing. Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole process is causing undue distress?
I agree with my hon. Friend that this process is causing difficulties. I know from past experience that the regime of charges in operation, which are being increased, almost seems to some people to be a profit machine rather than providing good service to the public.
I would like to ask the Minister what would happen if applicants lost their access to digital proof of their settled status, for example in the case of Home Office errors in record keeping or loss of data? Would there be alternative ways for them to provide proof of status?
Secondly, the Government have broken a promise to EU citizens and gone against assurances given to the House on settled status checks. We have been told multiple times by different Ministers that the Government will not check that an EU citizen is exercising their treaty rights under free movement. In a recent letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), the Prime Minister wrote:
“You asked me whether resident EU citizens and their family members applying for UK immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme will be required to show that they meet all the requirements of current free movement rules. I can confirm that they will not.”
However, in recent changes to the immigration rules the Government granted themselves the power to reject settled status applications if someone was not doing this.
In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), the Minister for Immigration said:
“The draft Withdrawal Agreement does not protect those who are not exercising or are misusing free movement rights. This means that, while free movement rules continue to operate to the end of the planned implementation period, there will remain scope, as a matter of law, for a person to be removed from the UK on those grounds.”
There are a number of people—for example carers, stay-at-home parents or retired people—who are not exercising treaty rights and are at risk of having a removal decision made against them. Can the Minister tell us why she has granted her officials this power? Either the Government are going to use this power for at least some applicants, in which case Ministers have gone against significant assurances to EU citizens and to this House, or this power will never be used, in which case why grant it in the first place?
Thirdly, on the roll-out of settled status so far, am I right in saying that the settled status app is still not available on Apple products? Is the Minister aware that the facial recognition feature on the Android phone is not working in some cases and the Home Office has required people to send in their original passports just weeks before Christmas? What measures are being put in place to ensure that privacy of biometric data is protected, especially where the Government share this data with their contractors?
The campaign group, the3million, has raised concerns about the accuracy of the Minister’s report on the first phase of settled status. It is misleading to say that “no cases have been refused”, as 129 people—over 12% of the applicants—were still awaiting a decision. Can the Minister clarify the situation that these people are in now?
There remains significant concern about how vulnerable people will register. The Minister has emphasised that it will be a “simple, straightforward process”, but even simple processes can become complicated very quickly for people with complex lives. During a Home Affairs Committee hearing, one of the Government’s immigration advisers said:
“It is possible that in a few years’ time when the scheme has been implemented, we won’t really have any idea how inclusive it’s been and whether there are significant numbers of people who fall through the gaps.”
How will we know how many EU residents are left without status when the Government do not collect or release the necessary data?
On Sunday, a withdrawal agreement was published that fails to address significant issues with EU citizens’ rights. Onward free movement for UK citizens in Europe has not been resolved. We have not had guarantees of what will happen to the agreement on EU citizens’ rights in the event of no deal. EU citizens will be subject to the hostile environment, may be required to prove they are exercising treaty rights and the Government will have no idea how many people remain undocumented come December 2020.
We have been told that the immigration White Paper may come as early as next week. Can the Minister confirm this? How will it affect EU citizens who are already here? We have already suffered months of uncertainty because the Government cannot get their house in order. The Government have failed to protect EU citizens in the UK.
It is a pleasure as ever to serve under your Chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) on having secured this important debate on the EU exit settlement scheme. My hon. Friend has raised this with me previously in the House, and I recognise his particular constituency interest, with the population of Boston and Skegness having increased by one third.
I would like to thank Members from both sides for their contributions to the discussion today and to put firmly on the record how much work has gone into the EU settlement scheme. It is a good news story that the scheme is open for private beta testing well ahead of EU exit day.
EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and communities. It is not just that they can stay, but that we want them to stay. Since the 2016 referendum, there has been a great focus by the Home Office on securing citizens’ rights and delivering the scheme so that EU citizens can obtain their UK immigration status quickly and easily.
Members will know that in December 2017 we reached a deal with the EU on citizens’ rights. In March 2018 we agreed to extend that deal to those who arrive during the planned implementation period, which will run until 31 December 2020. The full legal text of the draft withdrawal agreement, published on 14 November, secures the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1 million UK nationals living in the EU.
The scheme we have been discussing today enables those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period to obtain UK immigration status in a straightforward process. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible immediately for settled status. Those who have not yet reached five years’ continuous residence will be eligible for pre-settled status and will be able to apply for settled status when they reach the five-year point.
The scheme is a simple and streamlined application process, which draws on existing Government data and processes to minimise the burden on applicants. Caseworkers will be looking for reasons to grant, not for reasons to refuse. We expect the great majority of the 3.4 million currently resident EU citizens who will be eligible to apply to do so and to be granted status. They will have plenty of time to apply before the deadline of 30 June 2021.
I would like to give some feedback on the first pilot of the private beta testing phase that we ran in the north-west of England, which has now finished with excellent feedback from participants. Some 1,053 applications were received, with a decision now granted in 1,046 cases, which were dispatched by 19 November.
I appreciate the Minister’s comments about the testing phase. Will she agree to meet me and a selection of constituents with EU nationality who have concerns about the scheme, as part of the feedback?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Throughout my time as Immigration Minister, I have always been pleased to meet as many interest groups as possible, so I will be delighted to meet him and some of his constituents. I would like to reassure him that I also have a constituency in the south-east of England and regularly meet my own constituents, who raise their concerns with me, and understandably so. Since the referendum, it has been a time of uncertainty and upheaval for some people, and it is important that the Government make ourselves as accessible as possible, so that we can give a reassuring message to our residents.
I hear what the Minister says about making the message as encouraging as possible, but does she agree that when language is used, either deliberately or lazily, saying that EU nationals are “jumping the queue”, it sets back that objective quite considerably?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are moving forward shortly with a new immigration system. Sometimes it can be very frustrating in the Chamber, because we end up on time limits and with either the Chair of a debate or the Speaker urging us not to take up too much time, but I am always very conscious in the language that I use that we must be welcoming, careful and tolerant. Immigration is an emotive and difficult subject, and I always regret it when my time limit means that I speak in what I refer to as tabloid headlines, which I never welcome. It is important that we set out in due course—hopefully very shortly—our future immigration system, which will certainly be based on skills that people can bring to the UK. That is our position going forward.
As I was saying on the update of the private beta testing phase 1, the average time taken to reach decisions was just under nine calendar days, and the fastest decision was made within three days. All applicants successfully proved their identity and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness said, around 94 per cent of those who provided customer feedback found the application process easy to complete.
The second pilot began on 1 November and will test the online application as an integrated, end-to-end process. It will significantly scale up the testing, with EU citizens working in the higher education, health and social care sectors across the whole UK, who make such a huge contribution, being able to apply. I would like to thank them and their employers for assisting us in this way. This phase will also enable us to consider the support that some vulnerable applicants may need. The Government have already announced grant funding of up to £9 million to enable voluntary and community sector organisations across the UK to provide such support.
We are also using the remaining months before exit to scale up our communications and outreach. Millions of people have already seen Government advertising encouraging them to visit gov.uk for easy-to-understand information, and there will be a comprehensive set of communications materials next year. As I have travelled the country over the past few months and met EU citizens, I have been pleased to hear that they have already received communications, and many are confident about the settlement scheme’s progress.
My hon. Friend raised a series of questions, all of them important ones that he is absolutely right to raise. We continue to work with Apple to deliver the identity verification functionality that is currently available only on Android. He may be aware that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was in America only recently, and I am conscious that this is an issue that he continually raises at the highest level.
The £9 million grant funding to those groups helping vulnerable people is incredibly important, and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness asked how, specifically, it was to be spent. On 25 October we announced the grant funding to enable voluntary and community organisations across the UK to support EU citizens who need additional help to apply. We have been working really closely with charities and community organisations representing the needs of vulnerable EU citizens. These grants will help them to inform vulnerable individuals about the need for status and to give practical support in enabling them to complete their applications.
I visited the Barbican library some months ago to look at the Assisted Digital service, and I was impressed with the commitment of people there to ensure that individuals were getting the support they needed. We currently have a pilot running with five local authorities, including Kent and Lincolnshire county councils, Sheffield City Council and Waltham Forest and Haringey borough councils. We are also working with seven non-governmental organisations, including the Cardinal Hume Centre, St Vincent de Paul, the East European Resource Centre, Coram, Rights of Women and various other groups. Our aim is to ensure that grants are awarded across the UK to communities where support is most needed and where organisations are able to provide it. The lots are specifically designed so that a diverse range of organisations are able to apply; eligible organisations can be charities, non-profit organisations, community groups or religious organisations.
The second phase of testing will finish on 21 December, which will enable us to have, in technical terms, a fire break between phase 2 and a further phase of testing, which will occur in the new year. Self-employed people can prove their residence via our automatic data matching at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and family members will be able to use a range of evidence not necessarily linked to employment to prove their residence.
My hon. Friend and, I believe, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who spoke for the Scottish National party, raised the matter of fee waivers and the cost of applying. This matter was raised with me in the House, specifically in relation to victims of human trafficking, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). She made, as indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness has made, an important point. I undertook then to look at the specific issue of those who had been victims of human trafficking, and I would like to reassure hon. Members that it is a point well made and something I am looking at very closely.
However, having agreed the level of fees with the European Union, we believe that our approach is reasonable, proportionate and fair to all EU citizens, and application is free of charge for those who hold valid permanent residence documentation or indefinite leave to remain, and for children looked after by local authorities.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time; she is very generous. She is highlighting the fact that the scheme, or elements of it, has been agreed with the European Union. Can she give a cast-iron guarantee that all the measures she is talking about will be in place, regardless of the outcome of the meaningful vote and what happens after this place has decided on the deal brought forward by the Prime Minister?
It is important that we give reassurance to EU citizens living here. As the former Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), made very clear, I believe, in one of his Select Committee appearances, this is a solid commitment to EU citizens, who we want to stay. I think one hon. Member might have raised the spectre of this, but we are certainly not going to remove EU citizens.
Moving on to some of the comments that hon. Members have made, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) spoke about employers. That is an important point. I was pleased to be at the launch of the employers’ toolkit that we have been making available to employers since much earlier in the summer, which was designed hand in hand with employers. I am conscious that they play a significant role in communicating to their employees how the scheme will work. We are already working with specific employers, NHS trusts and now universities as part of the testing phase. The toolkit has been welcomed and is useful, and it is designed to enable employers to help their employees through the process.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East raised a number of points. I want to focus on a productive meeting that I had yesterday with the Scottish Government Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, as part of a series of meetings I have undertaken to have specifically with him, but also with representatives of the Welsh Government and local government. It is important that we engage widely both with parts of the United Kingdom and with local authorities where there is a significant impact. We know that when people feel uneasy at times, they are likely to turn to local government or the devolved Administrations for support.
The Scottish Minister raised with me, as indeed he did in the summer, the question of fees and the undertaking by the Scottish Government to pay the fees for those working in certain sectors and perhaps for their own employees. He and I discussed yesterday the issue of taxation, and I undertook to raise that matter with the Treasury. I understand, and I hope I am correct in this, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the same undertaking to the Home Affairs Committee this afternoon.
The hon. Gentleman also specifically raised those who exercise rights as carers as Zambrano, Chen, Ibrahim or Teixeira cases. We have indicated that those resident as Zambrano cases are not protected by the draft withdrawal agreement, but we have decided as a matter of domestic policy to protect them. We consider that their current rights do not lead to a right of permanent residence under EU law, but a new UK status will be made available to them, as it will be for Chen, Ibrahim and Teixeira cases.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of landlords. I was very pleased, as Immigration Minister, to reconvene the landlords panel, which I co-chair with Lord Best. We met recently and, with a group of representatives of landlord organisations, went through the digital right-to-work check, which we will mirror for landlords with a digital right-to-rent check. It is a straightforward process, and the landlord representatives present were impressed with the way the right-to-work check already works. We will roll that out for landlords to make their checks as easy as possible.
The test phases majored on by some Members are exactly that—tests. It is very important that we make sure the scheme works as it is rolled out. We started deliberately in a very small and controlled way, and have expanded it significantly in phase 2. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness mentioned, it will be expanded much more widely in the second part of phase 2 testing. We expected there to be bugs and to need to make technical fixes. That was part of the reason for testing.
I asked the Minister many questions, many of which have not been answered. Will she undertake to get those answers to me? She also mentioned the discussions taking place on Apple phones. Is she able to enlighten us on how long those discussions will carry on? Is she aware of the face recognition difficulties with Android phones that I mentioned?
As I indicated just a moment ago, we are conscious that there have been several technical bugs. A good example was the system not recognising hyphenated surnames, which we were able to fix in phase 1 of the scheme. Some additional technical issues have been flagged up in phase 2, and we are working extensively to overcome them. I will not give a timeline for the resolution of the challenges with Apple phones, suffice it to say that a really constructive discussion is ongoing. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is a very persuasive man, and I am sure that we will reach a resolution as soon as possible.
The Minister has made a lot of helpful comments in response to some of our questions. Two remain, but I do not know if she can answer them today. First, will she simply clarify why there is a discrepancy between the statement of intent and the immigration rules in relation to the non-exercise of EU rights being a ground for refusal? Secondly, will she revisit why we have to have this severe cut-off point? What will happen to people who do not apply in time before the end of the scheme?
We have indicated that there will be a proportionate approach to those who do not apply in time, which I am very conscious could be for very good reason, such as ill health. It is important that we do not penalise people who have every right to be here. We are determined to be as welcoming as possible. We are working to make sure that we articulate that properly, not only through our communications but through the immigration rules.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I reassure hon. Members that at no point throughout this process have we underestimated the challenge of granting immigration status to more than 3 million people. However, we have made a strong start, and we have everything in place to make this whole process a success.
It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the Minister for giving actual answers to questions—that is not unusual for this Minister, but it is unusual for some—and I am pleased that that thanks was echoed by the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson as well. Some of these interesting and important questions have been answered.
However, I end with the point that I made earlier. When people are worried that their lives and livelihoods will be affected, we in the House have a duty to communicate that, while this scheme is not perfect, it has made a very strong start and will, I hope, provide those 3 million people with rapid reassurance. For us to scaremonger would be irresponsible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the EU settled status scheme.