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The EU Settlement Scheme and older people

An older couple, sat next to each other on a sofa, look at some paperwork

Why are so few over 65s applying?

Emily McCarron, Policy Manager for Equality and Human Rights at Age UK, explains what the EU Settlement Scheme is, what it means for applicants, and the impediments to older people applying.

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A little over 4 years ago, the United Kingdom voted to come out of the European Union. This means that although EU nationals can continue to live in the UK, they now have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). But with at least a third of EU nationals aged over 65 in the UK yet to make an application to EUSS, there are clearly some impediments to older people applying, as Emily McCarron explains.

What does the EUSS grant those who apply?

The EUSS grants immigration status to EU nationals, either 'settled status' (whereby you have already lived in the UK for over 5 years) or 'pre-settled' status (whereby you have lived in the UK for less than 5 years). EU nationals must apply to the scheme by June 30, 2021 if they want to continue to live or work in the UK.

What are the criteria for the EUSS?

As far as immigration schemes go, it is by far one of the most liberal schemes in the world. People don’t have to meet a ‘points based’ criteria or show that they are in a relationship with a UK citizen or have a job. They must, however, submit proof of identity as well as evidence they have been living in the United Kingdom for a continuous period of time (either less than or more than 5 years).

A case of digital exclusion

The Government’s expectation is that most people will register for the scheme online and the process is designed with this in mind. If someone applies online, they are required to complete a form and scan and upload specific documents to prove their identity. Once granted, they won’t be sent a biometric card or stamp in their passport; rather their immigration status will be ‘online’ so that when they need to provide proof of immigration status to a prospective landlord or employer, or to the NHS or Department for Work and Pensions, they will be asked to submit status online in order to access the services and benefits to which as an EU national, they are entitled to.

For many people, this process will seem straightforward and, in a way, easier in that someone can simply apply for immigration status online or on a smart phone. However, for many of the approximately 131,000 EU nationals aged 65 and over who are living in the UK, applying to the EU Settlement Scheme has proved difficult. There is evidence to support this: as of 30 June 2020, only 64% of EU nationals aged 65+ in the UK have applied to EUSS.

There are at least 47,000 EU nationals aged over 65 in the UK (approximately a third of all EU nationals of this age group) who have not yet made an application to EUSS.

The challenges for older people

Many of these older people will have been resident in the UK for 40 years or more, with many of them in extreme old age and struggling with disability, physical ill health, dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. Plus, research reveals that nearly a quarter of over 65s (24%) have not used the internet at all in the last 3 months, with the proportion of older people not online rising sharply as you go up the age range. In addition, many people in extreme old age do not have a valid passport because they’re no longer able to travel.

Limited digital capacity will also make it harder for many older people to access the online status granted to them under the scheme necessary for people with Settled or Pre-settled status to evidence their rights at any point in the future.

The impact of coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more difficult for older EU nationals to apply to the scheme. COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the lives of older people with the most immediate issue being the risk of severe illness and death. The lockdown and the need for them to shield and protect themselves from the virus has affected their access to the help, care and support that many older EU nationals need in order to apply to the EUSS.

For the approximately 5,000 older EU nationals residing in care homes, applying to the EUSS is unlikely to be possible at the moment. Older people with dementia and other serious impairments will be reliant on relatives and friends, care home staff or possibly their local authority to apply on their behalf. But with severe restrictions on who can visit care homes in place because of the pandemic, it’s unlikely this group will be able to get the support they need to apply.

The EUSS deadline is looming

As the deadline for the scheme looms (June 30 2021), we know there will be a core group of people who will not apply by the due date – however much publicity there is promoting the scheme. What is needed is urgent assurance from the Government that older EU nationals in the UK will not at some point in the future find themselves shut out of the NHS and other crucial public services, or even worse be put at risk of deportation, simply because through no fault of their own, they didn’t apply for the EUSS on time.

It is unthinkable that older EU nationals, many of them who have been living in the UK for the majority of their lives, who have worked or raised children here, will not be able to get essential medical treatments or their welfare entitlements, or even possibly to stay here at all, simply because they’re not internet savvy, they do not have a friend or relative to help them, or because they are too scared to leave the house because of the risk of COVID-19. It’s crucial for these older people’s health and wellbeing that their continued access to these services and entitlements is safeguarded.

We sincerely hope that the Home Office will provide older EU nationals living here in the UK with the urgent assurances they need and deserve.

EU citizens and settled status after Brexit

If you are living in the UK but you were originally from a country in the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you must apply to stay in the UK following Brexit.

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Last updated: Sep 15 2020

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