Extent, commencement and short title

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 2:00 pm, 28th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the Opposition Members for their contribution to this debate. I put the name of the hon. Member for Torfaen at the top of this sheet of paper, but then I had to add all the other hon. Members because of their detailed and learned comments on legal aid.

Amendment 21 and new clause 36 are grouped together because, in essence, they cover the same ground. I recognise the issues that have been raised by hon. Members. The EU settlement scheme has been designed to be streamlined and user-friendly, and the majority of applicants will be able to apply without the need for general advice from a lawyer or advice on rights to enter or remain required as a result of the Bill. Indeed, feedback from the testing phases of the EU settlement scheme showed that most applicants found the application easy to complete.

For the most part, feedback from applicants in the vulnerable cohort has been positive, noting the speed of decisions in many cases and that it was easy to provide evidence of residence. Supporting vulnerable individuals to obtain UK immigration status is a core element of the delivery of the scheme, and we recognise that we need to reach out and support a wide range of vulnerable groups whose needs will vary, including the elderly, those who cannot access or are not confident with technology, and of course non-English speakers.

We are therefore putting in place safeguards to ensure that the EU settlement scheme is accessible and capable of handling vulnerable individuals with flexibility and care. That will include a range of direct support offered by the Home Office, such as assisted digital support and indirect support through third parties. As a practical example, we are providing grant funding of up to £9 million for voluntary and community organisations throughout the UK to support EU citizens who might need additional help when applying for their immigration status through the EU settlement scheme. The grant funding will help those organisations to inform vulnerable individuals about the need to apply for status and to support them in completing their applications under the scheme.

As the Committee heard at the oral evidence sessions, voluntary and community organisations such as the Children’s Society have been well engaged in the development of the settlement scheme. We are also working to ensure that local authorities have all the support that they need to ensure that looked-after children in their care will receive leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme. Caseworkers will provide support to ensure that applications are not turned down because of simple errors or omissions, and a principle of evidential flexibility will apply, enabling caseworkers to exercise discretion in favour of the applicant where appropriate. In short, the process has been designed with users in mind.

As an additional safeguard, legal aid will be available to some particularly vulnerable individuals. The Government have always been clear that publicly funded immigration legal advice is available for individuals identified as potential victims of human trafficking, modern slavery or domestic violence. We will also introduce legislation shortly to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated migrant children into the scope of legal aid, meaning that that group will get support in securing their immigration rights.

In addition to that, legal aid may be available through the exceptional case funding scheme where the relevant criteria are met. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice announced in the House on 7 February, the Government will bring forward proposals to simplify the exceptional case funding application process and to improve the timeliness of funding determinations to ensure that those who need legal aid funding can access it when they need it.

The EU settlement scheme has been specifically designed to ensure that individuals can apply for settled status without the need for a lawyer. The Government have also committed to providing a range of safeguards to ensure that vulnerable individuals receive the assistance they need in securing their immigration rights. These safeguards will of course apply to vulnerable EEA and Swiss nationals. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton will withdraw amendment 21.