I share the Committee’s concerns about the Government’s settlement scheme for EU citizens and I have made this clear in my representations to Home Office Ministers. I want to make sure that any future process is as simple and stress-free as possible after what has been a particularly uncertain and daunting period for EU Londoners, especially the most vulnerable. I will continue to make the case to whoever the next Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Ministers are.
After successfully advocating for Government to waive the fee for Settled Status applications, I wrote to the Home Secretary in April calling on him to respond urgently to various issues with the EU Settlement Scheme that continued to create barriers for people to apply. My letter was strongly informed by my #LondonIsOpen bus out-reach weekend between 29 March – 1 April to provide free advice and guidance to EU citizens across the capital. The message was clear and worrying - there is a serious lack of awareness about the scheme amongst EU citizens and their families. This must be rectified by the Home Office immediately. If EU Londoners don’t register in time they will be unable to work, rent a home or open a bank account, it is unacceptable that the level of awareness is so low. The Government has already failed the Windrush generation and, worryingly, is on the verge of failing EU citizens who live here too.
In addition, EU citizens told me there is a distinct lack of digital support for the most vulnerable applicants when completing their applications and struggle to access overstretched legal advice and support services. The Government’s £9m grant funding is welcome, but clearly doesn’t go far enough to address the scale of the challenge facing the advice and support sector after a decade of cuts to meet this unprecedented level of demand. I communicated this to the Home Secretary in strong terms. I have yet to receive a response to this letter.
For our part, we will continue to update information on our online hub for EU citizens, fund outreach through my microgrant programme, and promote this work through various teams and channels at City Hall to keep EU Londoners up-to-date. Let me be clear, the one million European Londoners are part of the fabric of this city – working hard, paying taxes and playing a major role in civic and cultural life. They will always be welcome here.