Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Commons Reasons – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 5:15 pm, 21st October 2020

My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Oates’s excellent speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, with whom I worked on the EU Justice Sub-Committee. The Minister referred to people being able to use their smartphones for this purpose. A friend of mine could not open the link in the email she received confirming her settled status. She had to go to an internet café to do so. I am not quite sure what went wrong there.

I will refer to a report published yesterday by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the other place called Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: Citizens’ Rights. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at it, but it backs the amendment so that EU citizens should have

“the option of … a physical document to evidence their residency status … in addition to their digital status.”

I am very pleased indeed that it has given that support. It refers to a number of reasons why this should be accepted. It talks about

“examples of people getting assistance from unregulated immigration advisers to make their application, then the third party retain the log-in details necessary to access the platform” and make a

“charge to send on details to employers.”

I hope that is something the Home Office might look into.

The committee also talks about how, because the online product

“remains linked to the physical document, such as a passport, used by the individual in their application … If the passport is changed, then the applicant has to update the online system.”

That is an issue that will recur. The committee also says that

“accessing the online profile is not straightforward for people not fluent in IT”— something we have discussed a lot on this subject—so they

“end up relying on the pdf document they receive informing them that a status has been granted”.

The Minister referred to that being put in the desk drawer. It is, of course,

“not a substitute for actual evidence of status”,

but unfortunately it might be used by some people who are confused by the online environment, which is a recipe for some difficulty.

Then, of course, the person asking the EU citizen to demonstrate their status has to understand it. The Minister referred to support for the holders of settled status. I am not sure whether she plans to give lots of tuition to prospective landlords, employers and so on. She talked about the NHS. It was not quite clear what that system will be. The Public Law Project has listed nine steps that a third party such as an employer would have to take to check the status of an EU citizen. It is worth quickly mentioning them:

“Request the code from the applicant … Wait for an email with a link to arrive … Open and read the email … Search, identify, and open the correct website”,

because apparently there is no link in the email,

“Start the checking process … Enter the share code from the email … Enter the applicant’s date of birth … Enter their company name”—

I am not sure what happens for an individual landlord—and, lastly,

“Check that the photo on their screen looks like the person applying for the job and keep a secure copy of the online check, either electronically or in hard copy.”

All this requires reliable access to the internet. If you do not have access to wi-fi, which you might not in an empty flat that you are showing it to a prospective tenant, a person would have to rely on mobile signal, which is honestly not great, even in London.

Also, the committee’s report says that apparently

“the lack of a physical document has contributed to the confusion over eligibility for benefits, because claimants have been unable to show a photo ID card showing their status … it was unclear how some decisions have been made by the DWP in terms of using settled status as a proof of eligibility.”

It is quite a serious point that even the DWP does not seem to have got this right.

The report says that

“the option of a physical card would give an additional layer of safety against criminal attempts to ‘hijack’ someone’s status.”

We are being warned all the time about cybersecurity, and the dangers of malware, hacking and so on. The report says that, in a recent survey of 3,000 EU citizens, apparently more than 10% had been asked

“to provide proof of settled status, and that the digital only status was deterring some from applying.”

It was actually putting them off. The report continues,

“physical proof came right at the top of concerns of EU citizens: 89% said that they would like an option, not compulsory, of physical proof.”

Having gone through all that evidence, it is hardly any wonder that the committee in the other place backed this sincere, reasoned request for EU citizens to have the option of a physical document. I know the noble Baroness cares about people and people’s lives, but it really seems the Government ought to find a way to accede to this request.