Amendment 44

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 14th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 5:15 pm, 14th September 2020

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 44 and will speak to the other amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Ludford—Amendments 45 and 46—and to Amendments 52 and 96, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy.

This group of amendments brings us to the EU settled status scheme, which is dealing and has dealt with huge numbers of applications. I do not seek to deny that, but the task is huge to ensure that all EU citizens in the UK at a given date are able to remain when they have the right to do so. These amendments address aspects of the scheme. Later today we will continue with Amendment 49, in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates, which is about how to prove that status.

I am grateful to Ministers and officials for meeting me and representatives of the organisation the3million to discuss applications for settled status after the deadline of 30 June 2021 has passed. When I asked in June of this year as to the proposed criteria for accepting applications made after the end of the period, the Minister’s response referred to the Government’s “compassionate and flexible approach”, and I do not want to suggest that they will not be compassionate. She then gave examples, including

“children whose parent or guardian failed to apply on their behalf”;

I would add to that children who will be less than five years old and will not have completed five years in the UK. The Minister’s examples also included

“people in abusive or controlling relationships who were prevented from applying, and those who lack … physical or mental capacity”.

I understand that guidance for caseworkers is to be published, probably in January.

Before that meeting, the3million had talked with the Minister about the range of circumstances which might cause someone to miss the June deadline. Its examples included students, who will have completed a lot of formalities in order to be here as students. A lot of them think that because they are not settling in the UK, a scheme called “settled status” really is not about them. People who have been here a very long time already feel settled. They feel integrated and have done so for years. They simply do not believe that the scheme can apply to them. People who have obtained a permanent residence document do not think they need to do any more, which is understandable when they have a document that they can wave.

I accept that Home Office messages and posters mention that all EU citizens have to apply, and that holders of permanent residence status have to apply again. However, we all know what real life is like. People switch off before they read the small print, making an assumption that the topic simply does not apply to them. We could have a huge number of ordinary people who simply forgot or did not think it applied to them, or who were scared or overwhelmed by the process. Perhaps they did not have smartphones or see the advertisements. Perhaps they did not have children or grandchildren to prompt them. People may believe that they are ineligible, as the Migration Observatory has pointed out.

The examples in the Written Answer which I mentioned are regularly given. I understand that the Home Office wants to discourage people from thinking that the scheme can be left and picked up after next June, but its approach to what are reasonable grounds may not accord with that of affected individuals. The3million is urging EU citizens to get on with their applications but it believes—and I agree—that having a clearer idea of what is likely not to be considered reasonable would be helpful. I am therefore moving Amendment 44, so that the scheme should remain open until Parliament has dealt with a report on it. Amendments 52 and 96, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, have the same objectives.

Amendment 45 deals with something which worries me very much: someone who, on the closing date, has not been in the UK for five years but has been granted pre-settled status so that he can subsequently apply for settled status when five years’ residence has been achieved. It would be all too easy for that further application to be overlooked, so the amendment provides for various notifications from the Home Office. If you are granted pre-settled status, you should be told straightaway about what else is required to be done; similarly if it is

“after this Act is passed”.

There would be another notification at least six months before your entitlement expires through that status.

I do not suppose that we can prove this but given the large proportion, so far, of grants of pre-settled rather than settled status, my concern is that when an application is not straightforward—because the applicant can prove only the last two or three years’ residence and not the longer period that he has in fact been resident in the UK—the caseworker grants pre-settled status rather than delving into those extra years and the applicant thinks “Oh, that’s okay”. As of 30 June, or possibly 31 July—I am not entirely sure from the website—almost 1.5 million grants of pre-settled status have been made, which is 41% of all concluded applications. Ministers refer to grants of just status, but that tells only a part of the story.

At the meeting to which I referred, the Minister and her officials talked about the communications strategy that they will roll out to remind people of the significance of next June’s date. The Minister teases me when I talk about GOV.UK, which I find extremely useful, but I am sure she agrees that it is not everybody’s daily reading. If you do not know that you need information, you are not going to look for it. I understand that the strategy includes contact with specialist groups who themselves have contact with relevant individuals and through embassies, but of course most embassies do not have information about their own citizens who are here. Much of what is in contemplation sounds likely to replicate what had been done already. From what the Minister said, I had the impression that the approach would be rather what one might expect in a commercial context by a company working in the commercial sector. I would be grateful if the Minister could give more information, perhaps by letter, on the selection of whoever is to be appointed to carry out the work, the appointment process and the specification for the job.

As we have been reminded, when the UK switched to digital television there was a huge campaign that was regarded as massively successful. Even so, 3% of people who needed to switch did not do so and were left overnight with a television which did not work, and 3% of 4 million, the number for which applications are now heading when by definition the relevant total must be higher, is 120,000. It would put 120,000 people in a precarious position. If you have pre-settled status and have not converted it you will need to leave the UK when it has expired and, during your residence, you do not have the same rights as under settled status, notably to welfare benefits. That is why I am so worried about this and why I tabled Amendment 45.

Amendment 46, on applications for citizenship from people with settled status, takes us to the issue of comprehensive sickness insurance. For citizenship, are we talking about something more than settled status and people who have exercised treaty rights? I know that my noble friend Lady Ludford has done a lot of work on the requirements for comprehensive sickness insurance, so I am sure she will cover that. I beg to move.