The Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report on the EU settlement scheme in which it calls for better legal protection for applicants, especially vulnerable people like children.
The report is based on expert evidence from charities, local authorities and legal experts, as well as evidence from the Home Office and Home secretary. Coram Children’s Legal Centre gave oral and written evidence to the inquiry, and published a report on the barriers for child applicants and outlining our recommendations earlier this year. We are pleased to see many of those recommendations on local authority support for children in care, Home Office exercise of discretion in case-working, the operation of digital status and help for people granted pre-settled status reflected in this report.
As part of a comprehensive suite of recommendations, the Committee calls upon the Home Office to support children and young people to apply through the following:
Introduce a stage in the application process which prompts applicants to apply on behalf of any eligible children;
Work with schools and local authorities to provide guidance and advice to parents who are EU citizens;
Require local authorities to undertake enquiries into how many EU citizen children are in care in their areas, and who may be required to apply to the Settlement Scheme;
Provide additional support and guidance to local authorities regarding the applications of EU citizen children in their care, including directing them to where they can access legal aid and/or advice.
The report emphasises that “local authority employees cannot be expected to provide expert legal advice or services, especially as many cases for children and young people in care will involve complex circumstances”.
The Committee also calls upon the government to:
- Automatically grant settled or pre-settled status to any EU national or their family member who is eligible for it – to prevent people from falling through the gaps
- Issue hard-copy documents to EU nationals and their family members granted status to complement the new ‘digital status’
- Help partners or children of EU nationals who are the victims of abuse by making reasonable enquiries on their behalf to find relevant evidence of their residence and identity
- Ensure that all caseworkers and staff involved in processing or assisting with applications to the Settlement Scheme understand the principles of discretion and evidential flexibility, so that these principles are applied consistently and fairly in decision-making
- Consider, on the balance of probabilities, whether someone has an entitlement to settled status even if they lack the documents to prove this, to ‘exercise its discretion compassionately’
- To clarify the rights of individuals who are currently lawfully in the UK but who fail to make an application to the settlement scheme before the deadline (currently December 2020).
CCLC welcomes the report’s recommendations and its strong focus on children and other vulnerable applicants, and looks forward to working with the Home Office to support children to make applications to the settlement scheme throughout the next year.
Read the Home Affairs Committee report here.
Read CCLC’s report ‘Uncertain Futures: the EU settlement scheme and children and young people’s right to remain in the UK’ here.
Read Home Office guidance to local authorities and health and social care trusts here.