Exclusivo: Charities and law firms ‘swamped’ with enquiries as large numbers waiting months for EU settlement decision or have only just discovered they need to apply
Lawyers and charities tell O Independente they have been “swamped” with requests for help, including from panicked individuals who applied months ago and are still waiting for a decision and from those struggling to make an application now having only just discovered they need to.
The influx in appeals for help means the small charities and law firms that provide this support are struggling to meet the demand, which they say is leading to an “advice gap” as they struggle to “hold back the tide”.
Following Brexi, EU nationals and their family members who wish to stay in Britain must apply to the EU settlement scheme de 30 Junho, with those who do not automatically becoming undocumented – leaving them unable to access state support and liable for deportation.
The latest government figures show that just over 5.3 million applications had been received as of 31 Março, of which nearly 5 million had been concluded – leaving more than 320,000 pending a decision. It is not known how many individuals need to apply overall.
Labour said it was wrong that people were “losing out” due to a lack of support, while the Liberal Democrats called on the government to scrap the “arbitrary” 30 June deadline, warning that it risked EU nationals becoming victims of a “new Windrush-style scandal”.
O Escritório em casa has said that any applicant who has not received a decision by 30 June will continue to have their rights protected until their application is concluded.
Settled, a charity supporting EU nationals, recebeu mais do que 1,000 calls to its helpline in April – a 45 per cent rise on the previous month. The number of people visiting its website has also surged – with 27,000 visits in May compared to 22,500 in April and 2,400 last May.
Kate Smart, chief executive of the charity, said many of the enquiries were from people unsure whether they need to apply to the scheme or not, particularly EU nationals who are long-term residents in the UK – but still need to secure settled status before the deadline.
The Work Rights Centre has meanwhile seen its monthly volume of EU settlement enquiries more than triple since March, now averaging at 64 per month compared with a monthly average of 16 per month last year.
Dr Olivia Vicol, chief executive of the charity, disse: “We cannot understate how worried EEA nationals are at this time. We’ve heard from people whose applications have been pending for months, and who now fear for their right to work and live in the UK.
“Most worryingly, we continue to hear from people who are yet to make their application – this is usually due to a history of labour exploitation.”
Vem depois O Independente relatado that a 10-year-old girl was refused EU settled status despite the fact that all of her immediate family members had been granted it – fueling concerns about the scheme.
Christopher Desira, director of law firm Sepharus, a law firm contracted by the EU Delegation to the UK to provide free advice to individuals about the EU settlement scheme, said there had been a “surge” in applicants referred to the firm in recent weeks.
He said Sepharus and other legal advisory firms specialising in EU settlement were now “swamped” and warned that “there just aren’t enough people out there to help everyone who needs it”.
“We’re trying to hold back the tide. We’re seeing an increase in complex applications. There aren’t enough of us out there, and those out there are not accredited high enough to deal with the complex cases. There’s a bit of an advice gap appearing now," ele disse.
Mr Desira said the surge had been caused largely by EU nationals who had “only just realised” the scheme existed and that they needed to apply.
“As we continue to have this increase in cases and meet people only just realising they should apply, we’re left wondering how many more are still out there who still need to make these applications," ele disse.
“We’re a month before the deadline and it doesn’t seem like things are slowing down, so the worry is how many people are still going to miss it.”
Maike Bohn, of the3million, said the group was receiving hundreds of enquiries from people struggling to access their online status or reporting that they had been waiting “months or even years” for a decision on their application without an explanation from the Home Office.
She called on the department to ensure it has capacity to deal with the “last-minute surge”, adicionando: “Otherwise many might not be able to get their applications in on time, with potentially life-changing consequences.”
Shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous said: “It’s critically important that the government get this system right. They have made promises to help people through the process and nobody should lose out as a result of a lack of support.”
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “A range of support is available for the most vulnerable or those who require assistance using digital systems. We made up to £22m in funding available for organisations across the UK to help people apply.”
He urged anyone who was yet to apply for EU settlement to “do so now”.