Amendment 44

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 6:15 pm, 14th September 2020

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and rightly probed me on some of the detail of what the Government are intending to do across all the various issues that are raised in these amendments. I am pleased to say that, on most points, I think I will be able to reassure noble Lords on the issues they raise.

On Amendments 44 and 96, both concern how the Government will deal with late applications to the EU settlement scheme. Both are incredibly well-intentioned, as they concern how we ensure that those eligible for the scheme obtain status under it. There is plenty of time for those EEA citizens and their family members resident here by the end of the transition period to apply for status under the EU settlement scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021. Furthermore, in line with the citizens’ rights agreement, they will be able to apply after the deadline where they have reasonable grounds for missing it.

I think noble Lords will find that, throughout my response, I will outline how the Government intend to take a very pragmatic approach to all these issues. During the Second Reading debate, I confirmed that, early in 2021, the Government will publish guidance on what constitutes missing the deadline. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I say that the timescale is appropriate because, for the time being, our priority has been to encourage all those who are eligible to apply to the scheme to do so before the deadline. We do not want to risk undermining that effort by inadvertently encouraging people to put off making the application.

Amendment 44 would cause confusion over the deadline for a scheme which has been designed to be simple and straightforward. We must also deliver on our promise to the people to end free movement and, from 2021, introduce the new global points-based immigration system. However, as I said earlier, the EU settlement scheme does not close on 30 June 2021. It will continue to operate thereafter for applications by people with pre-settled status applying for settled status and by those who are joining family members in the UK as well as by those with reasonable grounds for applying after the 30 June 2021 deadline. A report setting out proposals for dealing with late applications—as sought by Amendment 44—is not needed because we have been clear that we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to late applications and will be publishing that guidance early next year.

Amendment 96, concerning such guidance, is also unnecessary. Our guidance on reasonable grounds for applying after the deadline will be indicative and not exhaustive. I think noble Lords will agree that this is the right approach; we will consider all cases in light of their individual circumstances. A person with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline who subsequently applies for and obtains status under the scheme will enjoy the same rights from the time they are granted status as someone who applied to the scheme before the deadline.

The withdrawal agreement obliges us to accept late applications indefinitely where there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. This and other rights under the agreements now have direct effect in law via the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, so this commitment is already effectively enshrined in primary legislation agreed by Parliament.

The Government are also doing all they can to raise awareness of the scheme and ensure support is available. In March, we announced a further £8 million of funding, in addition to £9 million last year, for organisations across the UK to help vulnerable people to apply. Plans for a further burst of national advertising are under way because we are determined that no one will be left behind. My noble friend Lady Altmann specifically asked about this point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in a more indirect way.

I will take a moment to outline what we are going to do between now and next year. With less than a year to go until the deadline, we will continue to update our communications approach. We will have further and future national advertising, which will have adjusted messaging and emphasis to ensure that it speaks to the remaining audiences still to apply.

From the autumn, a new cohort of grant-funded organisations will continue the successful work of the current network, supporting those who need to apply. Home Office officials are engaging with educational institutions to ensure that students are aware of the actions that they will need to take. For long-term residents, we make it clear in our communications materials that even EEA citizens who have lived in the country for many years or have a permanent residence document will still need to apply. We are increasing that engagement with partners who work closely with such audiences to continue to drive applications.

I think that my noble friend asked about paid marketing. The EUSS communications will be targeted to key audience segments. Paid marketing will reach the audience segments across the UK; a campaign will launch later in the year, with subsequent bursts of activity in 2021 in the lead-up to the scheme deadline. It will use a combination of broadcast channels, such as catch-up TV and radio, and highly targeted channels, such as social media, digital advertising and paid search, to reach audiences effectively. There will be some wider communications in terms of working closely with EUSS vulnerabilities, with MHCLG, the DfE, the LGA and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. It is a Home Office-led communication, but it is absolutely across the breadth of government. I hope that gives my noble friend a good idea of the sorts of activity that will be going on.

Amendment 45, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Government to issue reminders to those granted pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme to apply for settled status. EEA citizens and their family members granted pre-settled status can remain in the UK with this status for five years from the date when it is granted, to go to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. As the decision letter they receive makes clear, as soon as they have completed five years’ continuous residence, they can apply for settled status. They do not need to wait until the end of their pre-settled status before they do so. Indeed, in most cases a person will be eligible for settled status well before the expiry of their pre-settled status, on the basis of their residence in the UK before they obtained pre-settled status.

The Home Office has already committed, in the statement of intent for the scheme published in June 2018, to sending a reminder to people to apply for settled status before their pre-settled status expires. I think that was first mooted in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. We will set out further details in due course as to how this will work, but the first grants of pre-settled status, issued under the initial test phase of the scheme in 2018, will not expire until 2023—that is, five years from 2018. Reminders will be sent out well in advance of the expiry of their pre-settled status.

By being granted status under the EU settlement scheme, EEA citizens are able to continue to work, study and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis as they did before we left the EU. This includes access to social support and housing, as sought by Amendment 45. EEA citizens granted pre-settled status are eligible to claim income-related benefits, such as universal credit, if they are exercising a qualifying EU treaty right—for example, as a worker or self-employed person. This is a long-standing requirement and in line with the free movement directive and withdrawal agreement.

Amendment 46 concerns the naturalisation process for EEA citizens who hold settled status under the EU settlement scheme. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, a person wishing to naturalise as a British citizen must show that they have resided here lawfully for at least five years and that they are no longer subject to any immigration time restrictions. I do not consider having resided in the UK lawfully to be an unreasonable requirement. An EEA citizen granted settled status will be able to live, study and work in the UK as they can do now. Choosing to make the additional commitment of becoming a British citizen must remain a personal decision, based on the individual’s circumstances and ability to meet the requirements. In the case of students or the self-sufficient, but not those who were working here, holding comprehensive sickness insurance has always been a requirement of lawful residence in the UK under free movement rules.

However, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that, where CSI has not been held by people who were previously here as a student or self-sufficient person, that does not mean that an application for citizenship will necessarily be refused. I also clarify for the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that there is no CSI requirement for the EU settlement scheme. The grace period SI does not affect the criteria for the EU settlement scheme. The SI protects the EEA rights of those who have arrived here at the end of the transition period; I cannot read my own writing but I think that is what it says. I hope that answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

The British Nationality Act allows for discretion to be applied around this requirement in the special circumstances of a particular case. The Home Office will examine each application to understand why any such requirement has not been complied with, together with any grounds which can allow us nevertheless to grant the application. Our guidance reflects this, and we encourage people to provide as much information as possible to allow us to reach a decision. I therefore consider this proposed new clause unnecessary.

I turn finally to Amendment 52 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. This would require the Government to lay before Parliament a report on the status of EEA citizens during the grace period; that is, from 1 January to 30 June 2021. It would prevent the measures in this Bill relating to the ending of free movement from coming into force until such a report had been laid. We agree as to the importance of clarity and effective communication but not that such a report is necessary to ensure EEA citizens understand their rights during the grace period. We have already published an impact assessment of the provisions contained in the Bill. We have also been consistent in our messaging that free movement will end at the end of the transition period, subject to the successful passage of the Bill.

The Government have been clear about what this means for EEA citizens. Those resident in the UK by the end of the transition period, and their family members, are protected by the withdrawal agreement and have access to the EU settlement scheme. Those newly arriving here from 1 January 2021 will require status under the new points-based system.

The rights of EEA citizens resident in the UK by the end of the transition period are set out in the withdrawal agreement. Resident EEA citizens who have not yet applied to the EU settlement scheme must be able to continue to enjoy their current rights until the end of the grace period. Where they apply to the scheme during the grace period, their existing rights will be preserved until that application is concluded. This will be implemented via regulations to be made under Section 7 of the EU withdrawal agreement Act 2020. We have shared a draft version with noble Lords so that they can see the provision we intend to make. EEA citizens resident by the end of 2020, and their eligible family members, will continue to be treated the same until 30 June 2021. We plan to lay the regulations very shortly so that they can be debated and made in good time before they come into force at the end of the transition period.

Following that lengthy explanation, I hope that noble Lords will be happy to withdraw their amendments.