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Two thirds of EU settlement applicants waiting over a month despite Home Office claim it takes five days

Lawyers warn more complex cases getting ‘left on the shelf’ as Home Office tries to ‘speed through’ applications with days to go before deadline

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 24 June 2021 17:51 BST
New FOI data shows more than 205,000 people have been waiting more than a month for an EU settlement decision, with 6,755 waiting over a year
New FOI data shows more than 205,000 people have been waiting more than a month for an EU settlement decision, with 6,755 waiting over a year (AFP via Getty Images)

More than two thirds of EU settlement applicants have been waiting over a month for a decision, with thousands waiting over a year, despite the Home Office claiming it takes five days, new figures show.

Data obtained through a freedom of information (FOI) request reveals that as of April 2021 – the latest figures available – 205,875 people had been waiting more than 31 days for a settled status outcome, out of 305,000 pending applications (68 per cent).

This marks a considerable rise in the proportion of cases taking longer than a month for an outcome, with the figure standing at 79,555 in December 2020 - one fifth of all applications pending (392,400).

The proportion of cases waiting more than 91 days has meanwhile surged by 274 per cent in the four months to April - from 24,380 to 91,215 - while 6,755 applicants have been waiting over a year for a decision, up 10 per cent on December 2020.

The government website states: “It usually takes around five working days for complete applications to be processed if no further information is required, but it can take up to a month.”

Shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous said: “This is a mess of the government’s own making. People should not have to wait so long for a decision, stuck in limbo. Ministers must set out urgently what they are doing to sort this mess out.”

Experts say the rise in delayed outcomes is likely due to a backlog of complex cases piling up as more straightforward ones are prioritised, as well as the general increase in applications putting pressure on the scheme.

A Home Office spokesperson said that as the 30 June deadline approached, outstanding cases were “increasingly complex” but that “dedicated civil servants” were “working extremely hard to help applicants secure their status”.

The department revealed earlier this week that it was receiving more than 10,000 applications per day, up from around 6,000 in May – with the backlog currently around 400,000.

EU and EEA nationals and their family members who wish to stay in Britain must apply to the EU settlement scheme by 30 June or they will become undocumented, leaving them unable to access state support and liable for deportation.

The Home Office has said that anyone who applies for the scheme by the 30 June deadline will “have their rights protected” until their application is decided.

However, there is concern that some may fall victim to the hostile environment – a set of policies intended to block those without immigration status from services such as housing, employment and the NHS – if employers, landlords and others are not aware that they should maintain their rights.

Kuba Jabłonowski, from Exeter University, which obtained the data in collaboration with the3million, said ministers could have done more to foresee this “surge” in pending applications and avoid “confusion” about the rights of those still waiting for a response after 30 June.

“We knew there would likely be a last-minute surge and also that last minute cases are likely to be more complex, for various foreseeable reasons. We have been telling [the Home Office] for years now that cases would get more complex further down the line,” he said.

“This was always going to happen, so the Home Office should have prepared for large numbers of cases pending beyond the deadline.

“Instead, we see last minute policy changes which confuse applicants, advisors and those who will conduct checks form 1 July: landlords, employers, healthcare workers, and so on.”

Christopher Desira, director of Sepharus, a law firm contracted providing free advice to vulnerable individuals about the EU settlement scheme, said part of the issue was that more complex cases, such as people with criminal records or non-EU family members, appeared to in some cases be being put on hold or taking a long time be processed.

“We were assured by the Home Office that this should not be happening but reports on the ground is that it seems to be a systemic issue,” he said.

Mr Desira said that in some cases where there is a delay the Home Office was able to “speed things up”, but that this only tended to happen on a “case by case basis, usually a result of a press report or intervention by a grant funded organisation”.

He added: “They have said that they continue to process simple applications within days, so it does look like they are speeding through simple ones but more complex ones get left on the shelf so to speak.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Anyone who has applied to the scheme by the 30 June deadline, but has not had a decision by then, will have their rights protected until their application is decided. This is set out in law.”

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