The hon. Lady raises the question of how the EU settlement scheme is working. Of course, we know that EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them to stay. The first two phases of beta testing have successfully concluded, and the wider public implementation of the scheme has gone live today.
I have received a worrying pattern of news about EU citizens in my constituency being denied universal credit because they are deemed not to have the right to reside. This is happening despite the Department for Work and Pensions having access to work history records and other evidence to the contrary. Is this an example of the hostile environment extending to EU citizens before Brexit has even happened, and will the EU settlement scheme have any impact on this?
The EU settlement scheme is a really crucial part of making sure that the 3.4 million EU citizens living here can absolutely evidence their right to stay here through a digital status in line with 21st-century requirements. The hon. Lady will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talk in positive terms about how important this scheme is. We have now opened the final phase of testing before the whole scheme goes live at the end of March.
The Government are right to be working hard to secure a Brexit deal, but if no deal is reached, can my right hon. Friend reassure EU citizens living in our county of Hampshire and elsewhere in the UK that their rights will still be guaranteed? This is important and it needs to be clear, not just to citizens but to businesses as well.
Picking up on the final part of my right hon. Friend’s question, last summer we launched the employer toolkit to enable employers best to communicate to their employees the settled status scheme. She is right to point out the concerns that many may have about the event of no deal. I would like to reassure her that across Government we are working incredibly hard to avoid a no-deal outcome. However, the Department for Exiting the European Union was very clear about the protections afforded to EU citizens in the event of no deal, and we believe that our offer to them is generous. Deal or no deal, the scheme will open publicly at the end of March, and it is crucial that as many citizens as possible apply.
The Minister knows that this is an increasingly complex area. I have had many letters from constituents concerned that they will be impacted by the immigration health surcharge. Who is going to have to pay this, and is it going to be increased along the lines foreshadowed in the press?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we did increase the immigration health surcharge. That was an important manifesto commitment that the Conservative party made to make sure that those who are using NHS services are also contributing to the NHS. The settled status scheme has deliberately been designed to be simple, not complicated. It is really important that EU citizens only have to prove their identity, prove their residence, and confirm that they do not have criminality. In the second phase of private beta testing, it has been very plain that the vast majority of people going through the scheme—in the region of 80% or so, I believe—have been able to confirm their residence of five years without any reference to additional information other than their records with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or their DWP records.
As somebody who is married to an EU citizen, I think that these proposals are entirely fair and proportionate, and are in marked contrast to the outrageous scare stories that were put about by some people, in and out of this House, who are fanatical about remaining in the European Union.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that his wife will be going through the process very soon indeed. In fact, some of the best advocates for the simplicity of the EU settled status scheme have been those who have already gone through it, and we have had very positive feedback on the first two phases of testing.