Hundreds of homeless people will be at risk of deportation after Brexit, charities warn

Exclusive: ‘Disastrous’ shortcomings in Home Office’s settled status scheme will leave ‘at least hundreds’ of homeless EU nationals undocumented, say lawyers and NGOs

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 26 November 2019 07:04 GMT
Comments
Report by Crisis finds that a significant number of homeless European nationals have very little knowledge of the EU settlement scheme
Report by Crisis finds that a significant number of homeless European nationals have very little knowledge of the EU settlement scheme

Hundreds of homeless people will be at risk of deportation after Brexit due to “disastrous” shortcomings in the Home Office’s process of granting EU nationals settled status, charities and lawyers have warned.

A significant number of homeless European nationals have “very little knowledge” of the EU Settlement Scheme, according to research by the charity Crisis, seen exclusively by The Independent. The homeless must apply for settlement to retain their UK immigration status after Britain leaves the EU.

The Crisis report warns that these individuals will subsequently be left without status, unable to work or access vital services, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and at risk of being deported, despite technically being eligible to remain in the country.

The charity, along with other NGOs and solicitors working with these groups, told The Independent that even when homeless EU nationals are aware of the scheme and wish to apply, it can be “incredibly difficult” to obtain the documents needed.

And even if they manage to apply, their applications are taking a long time for the Home Office to process, which is leaving vulnerable people with no proof of status and unable to access crucial state support.

The report found that the implications of Brexit for EU nationals was one of the biggest concerns of homelessness charities. Some 62 per cent of respondents to a survey of organisations working in homelessness and migrant sectors identify this as their biggest concern for future impact on migrant homelessness.

“Supporting someone to find the evidence they need to make a successful application can take months, and during this time people may stop engaging with support and end up not completing an application,” states the report.

“However, for people who do not successfully apply by the deadline – whether because they are unaware of the need to or lack the necessary documents – the consequences are likely to be severe.”

In April, ministers allocated £9m to 57 organisations to support an estimated 200,000 vulnerable or hard to reach EU citizens – but charities have said this is woefully inadequate for the task at hand.

Isabella Mosselmans, founder of Here for Good, which provides free legal advice to vulnerable EU citizens, said: “While it is good that they’ve given this funding, we are facing difficulties. It is not enough. We’re definitely not able to reach everyone. It’s extremely difficult to process these types of application for a number of reasons.

“In some cases, we’ve started an application with homeless people and then they’ve lost touch with the charity and we haven’t secured their status. The system is not designed to assist or make it easy for these types of vulnerable groups.”

Ms Mosselmans said that “at least hundreds” of homeless people would be left without status, adding: “Possibly thousands, definitely. I worry that there will be a lot of people, particularly the most vulnerable, who are left undocumented.”

Immigration barrister Leonie Hirst echoed her concerns, citing “very low awareness” of the scheme and describing it as “impossible to understand, it’s almost impenetrable”.

She added: “I would be very surprised if it wasn’t thousands [of homeless people left undocumented]. It is going to be a disaster, frankly.

“It beggars belief that this is supposed to be a simple and transparent system. There’s a lack of awareness about the need to make an application, then there are the evidential hurdles. You’re unlikely to be able to show that you meet the resident requirement if you don’t have an address.

“The Home Office has been asked on numerous occasions what will happen to people who don’t make an application, and they just say they’re confident that everyone will make an application, which is just a disconnect from reality.”

Ms Hirst also raised concern that some rough sleepers would refrain from applying for settled status due to a lack of trust in the Home Office and NGOs, particularly after it emerged that some homelessness charities had worked with immigration enforcement teams to identify undocumented migrants.

“If people think they are likely to become the subject of adverse interest from the Home Office if they make an application they’re just not going to do it, they’ll think it’s better to stay under the radar,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Public Interest Law Centre, which runs a project to defend the rights of EU homeless people throughout Brexit, said one of the biggest barriers for rough sleepers applying to the scheme was a lack of ID – with many homeless people having lost their passports and identity cards or had them stolen. They also cited the difficulty of obtaining new documents.

“A lot of people are without ID, so the first thing we have to do with them is to go through the bureaucratic process of trying to get them re-documented through their national embassy. Embassies often have long waiting times for appointments to get a new passport or ID or impose conditions that vulnerable individuals cannot meet.’

The spokesperson cited the case of an EU national who was unable to travel having recently had surgery, but who was required to attend an appointment at his national embassy to obtain new identification documents to enable him to apply for settled status. He needed this status to continue to access his welfare entitlements.

There were other cases where people were expected to travel to their home countries to get a new ID, a policy that applies for Romania, the spokesperson added.

“This is especially an issue in cases where people urgently need to get their settled status in order to prove their entitlement to housing assistance and welfare benefits, and the process takes months longer than it otherwise would because before they can even apply they need to get a new passport or ID,” they said.

The spokesperson said there was also an issue with Home Office delays in processing complex cases, leaving vulnerable homeless people unable to access state support for months on end.

They cited the case of one person whose application had been pending for six months and counting.

In another case, they said, an “extremely vulnerable” homelessness man with brain damage was struggling to access housing and benefits because he was still waiting for an outcome on his settled status application.

“If the Home Office is looking to grant status rather than refuse people, as it says it is, there needs to be a clear policy to relax evidentiary requirements for vulnerable people and expedite applications where people need settled status in order to prove their entitlement to benefits because they are otherwise at risk of dying on the street,” they said.

A Home Office spokesperson said the department had made up to £9m available to 57 voluntary and community sector organisations across the UK, including Crisis UK, to help vulnerable or at-risk EEA citizens to apply, and it said a “range of alternative documents” may be accepted as evidence of identity and nationality in certain circumstances in which applicants do not have a valid passport or ID card.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in