by Hamish Fraser, EU Citizens Support Service co-ordinator.
This column first appeared in the Herald on 25 August 2021.
Earlier this year, after giving a talk to a community group, an elderly man came up to me and asked me if he would have to apply to stay in the UK. He was 94 years of age, had been a German soldier in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war in Scotland, where he has lived ever since. He told me Scotland was his home and that he had no family in Germany and no valid identity documents. I told him he would have to apply, but help and support was available
After the Brexit referendum, both the Scottish and UK governments awarded funding to Citizens Advice Scotland to support vulnerable citizens from the EU, EEA and Switzerland with their application to remain in Scotland, through the EU Settlement Scheme.
At that time, the number of EU citizens living in the UK was estimated to be approximately 3.4 million, and it was thought that 10% of these would require support. The deadline for applications was 30 June 2021 and the reality is that over 6 million people made applications to the EU Settlement Scheme, with over 290,000 of these being made in Scotland. Although the deadline for applications has passed the Home Office have said that late applications will be accepted if there are reasonable grounds for failing to apply sooner.
The funding received by CAS from both the Scottish and UK Governments was specifically to target vulnerable people, and the Citizens Advice network in Scotland has provided over 14,600 people with advice and support to complete their applications. The first questions to be asked here are: what makes someone vulnerable and how do you identify them?
The EU Settlement Scheme application process was digital by default, which immediately presented huge challenges to large numbers of people. When the scheme was launched applications had to made using an Android phone and it was not until October 2019 that it became available on an iPhone. To make matters more difficult the app only worked on newer versions of the phones. If I’d had to apply I would have been part of this vulnerable group, until I eventually inherited my daughter’s ‘old’ phone.
Research shows that older people have greater accessibility issues regarding the ease of using devices and one in seven adults experience data poverty which then widens inequalities. Many of the older people that have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme have lived in the UK for many years and we are concerned that there are still many people that have not applied.
At Citizens Advice Scotland we would emphasise the importance of channel choice for services. While digital has many advantages it will not be the first choice communication method of many vulnerable groups and other options must remain available to meet the needs of these people.
The Citizens Advice network in Scotland has a team of specialist advisers as well as a solicitor-led service for complex cases. Our telephone helpline, 0800 916 9847, is staffed by these specialist advisers. We carried out extensive marketing and in June saw large numbers of people coming forward for support with their application right up to the deadline.
So far the EU Citizens Support Service has, provided direct support to 4,663 people to complete their applications, and in addition to this immigration advice has been provided to over 18,000 people since the start of the service.
We know that there are many people that have still to apply and we are here to help and provide support with late applications. The Home Office have said that they will consider late applications and will take a flexible and pragmatic approach and look for reasons to grant applications. I would strongly suggest that anyone that still has to submit an application should get specialist support.
Many of the older people that need to apply came to the UK just after the Second World War, when thousands of economic migrants and refugees came to the UK to seek safety and a better life. One of the late applications we have dealt with is a woman that was born in a German concentration camp at the end of the Second World War and following the war she was moved as a young child to Scotland. She didn’t have a birth certificate, passport or any identity documents. Our advisers and solicitor supported this woman to apply and thankfully she has been given Settled Status. While this is an extreme example there must be more people that moved to live in the UK in the 1940s and 1950s from Europe that still need to apply to continue to live in the UK.
We have contacted care providers in Scotland asking them to identify any people that they care for that may have to apply and we will be doing further marketing over the coming weeks to try and identify as many people as possible. People should think of friends, family and neighbours they know that may have come to the UK many years ago and ask them if they know about the EU Settlement Scheme and if they have applied. If they haven’t or they’re not sure then get them to call our helpline and we can give the necessary advice and support.
Anyone that doesn’t apply to the EU Settlement Scheme could find themselves unable to access benefits, services including healthcare and also remain in the UK. We don’t want this to happen to anyone, especially those that have lived in this country for many years and call it their home.
We are here to help, right up to the last minute. Free, independent and confidential help.