Vulnerable EU settlement applicants face losing ‘vital’ support with funding set to run out within weeks

Charities helping harder-to-reach EU citizens apply for settled status being forced to cut back on this support because Home Office has not guaranteed funding beyond March 2020

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 02 February 2020 10:05 GMT
Domestic abuse victims, among other vulnerable groups who need help applying for EU settled status, are at risk of losing support
Domestic abuse victims, among other vulnerable groups who need help applying for EU settled status, are at risk of losing support (iStock)

Vulnerable EU nationals could be left without “vital” support to assist them with applying for post-Brexit immigration status because Home Office funding that was granted for this purpose is set to end in weeks.

Charities helping harder-to-reach EU citizens – such as homeless people, domestic abuse victims and children in care – to apply for EU settled status say they are being forced to cut back on this service because the department has refused to guarantee any funding beyond March 2020.

Fifty-seven organisations in the UK were granted a total of £9m from the department last April to provide practical support to an estimated 200,000 vulnerable or at-risk people applying to the scheme – which they must do in order to retain immigration rights after Brexit.

However, the support has only been guaranteed until March and the Home Office has announced no plans for any extension, which campaigners said risked leaving a “gap” in provision.

A letter to party leaders from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants raising the issue at the end of last year received no response, while requests from the European Commission for confirmation from the Home Office that the funding would be extended are also said to have been unanswered.

Praxis, a charity granted funding to help homeless people apply to the scheme, currently has three caseworkers dedicated to providing this support – but it is being forced to consider ending their contracts because there is no guarantee that the work can continue beyond March.

Sally Daghlian, chief executive of the charity, said: “The government is pushing us towards a cliff edge. This is a vital service needed to secure the future of thousands of people who have made the UK their home but because of their circumstances are unable to complete the application on their own.

“Charities providing this service don’t know if the funding is going to continue beyond the end of March and there comes a point at which you have to end staff contracts, because it’s a financial risk to continue employing people without dedicated funding.

“Even if the Home Office does decide to provide more funding – which we absolutely think it must to avoid creating misery and chaos for vulnerable people – then it means we’ll lose three critical months because we have to carry out recruitment and then provide training so that people are up to speed on the new system.”

Bethan Lant, caseworker manager at the charity, said that due to the complexity of many cases, they had to work with them on a long term basis – which was not possible without guaranteed funding.

“These aren’t people who can apply quickly. Caseworkers are working with women who have experienced domestic violence, trying to collect evidence that they have been here for five years when they haven’t got access to a lot of the documents they need; and people with mental health issues who don’t have passports, helping them to approach their embassies to obtain the documents they need,” she said.

“It’s very difficult for us to continue working with these people if we don’t know whether our caseworkers will be there in a month’s time to be able to continue that work. It leaves us stuck.”

Nicole Masri, senior legal officer at charity Rights of Women, which runs an advice service funded by the Home Office to help domestic abuse victims apply to the EU settlement scheme, echoed these concerns, saying any break in continuity of the service would be a “real setback”.

“The government can’t afford to lose any time in supporting people to access the scheme before the June 2021 deadline,” she added.

Christopher Desira, solicitor at the law firm Seraphus and adviser at the European Commission Representation in the UK, said some charities had been forced to end their support for EU nationals because the uncertainty had left them unable to take on new cases.

He said the European Commission had been asking the Home Office whether there would be an extension of funding for the last few months and requesting details, but that it had as yet received no response.

Mr Desira added: “I met with the operations team in Liverpool about a month ago, and internally they support the funding being extended, because it makes their job easier. But it’s a ministerial decision.”

Tory MP admits EU settlement scheme sometimes 'doesn't work as well as we expect'

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed that the current grant funding scheme was set to finish at the end of March 2020, and said the department was exploring options for the financial year of 2020-21.

They added: “We have already had over 2.5 million people given status under the EU settlement scheme and we are always looking at ways to make sure everyone with the right to status gets it.

“As well as providing funding for charities which have supported hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, there are over 1,500 Home Office staff working on the EU Settlement Scheme and 250 Settlement Resolution Centre staff in place to provide assistance to applicants with any questions about the scheme or who need help applying.”

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