Looked After Children and the EU Settlement Scheme
Since the UK left the EU, people who want to visit or live in the UK have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). This includes children. Many children, particularly those who are vulnerable, may now unknowingly find themselves living in the UK unlawfully.
The situation is avoidable with a greater awareness of who must apply and identification, alongside ensuring applications are made by 30 June and status is secured.
What is the EU Settlement Scheme?
The UK has now left the EU and the Brexit transition period has ended. Only a few months remain for those EU, EEA or Swiss nationals (or their family members) who were in the UK by 31 December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
Previously, with free movement, EU nationals could visit or live in the UK without needing a visa. All this has changed. EU nationals already living in the UK must now take the proactive step of applying to the EUSS and securing either pre-settled (if they have been in the UK for less than 5 years) or settled status. This includes children.
Unfortunately many children - particularly those who are vulnerable - may now unknowingly find themselves living in the UK unlawfully, having failed to apply or to have an application made on their behalf to the EUSS. The situation is avoidable with a greater awareness of who must apply and identification, alongside ensuring applications are made by 30 June and status is secured.
Our work lobbying the government
Since the introduction of the EUSS we have raised concerns that many EU national children or the children of EU nationals will find themselves without status come 1 July 2021. We have focused particularly upon looked after children and care leavers, as many may not be able to depend upon their parents to apply on their behalf or will be reliant upon a local authority to do so. These children, many of whom have called the UK home their entire lives and endured difficult life circumstances, will now face the real possibility of a very insecure future.
In January 2020, we sent FOI requests to all local government bodies in the UK to understand the number of children in their care or eligible for care leaving support who would need to apply to the EUSS; how many had done so; and the number who had secured status. We have repeated this exercise to understand the progress which has been made and the gaps which remain as of early 2021.
In the intervening months, the Home Office also surveyed local authorities and released the results of its data pull. Alarmingly, our research shows that less than 40% of the looked after children and care leavers identified as needing to secure status have in fact made applications to the EUSS. The Home Office's survey also highlighted that more than 50% of identified looked after children and care leavers still need to apply.5 Yet instead of making the process simpler for these children to ensure they do not become undocumented, the Home Office have confirmed that anyone who has not applied by the deadline will have no lawful status in the UK as of 1 July. To ensure the best interests and welfare of these looked after children and care leavers, local authorities must without fail increase the number of applications being made before the EUSS deadline.
But these are only the looked after children and young people who have been identified. What is also clear is that there are still others yet to be even identified who will need to apply.
The responses we received from local authorities raised serious concerns of the confidence we could have in the numbers to provide a full picture of EUSS eligibility across the country – some local authorities dropped their figures by hundreds when queried, others identified a doubtfully low number of eligible children in light of their demographics, while others identified significantly more applications made than eligible children and young people. This inconsistency suggests a lack of understanding as well as oversight. In our prior report, we emphasized that proper oversight of the identification and application process was wanting and offered recommendations. The most recent FOI responses reveal these problems still persist. Local authorities, scrutiny committees and corporate parenting panels must continue working to ensure all eligible children and young people have been identified an their applications have been made.
Repeating our FOI exercise has also underscored how such a survey cannot be used as the only metric to measure the success of the EUSS registration exercise and be confident that all children in the state’s care have secured their status. The Home Office has framed the results of its survey as the ‘actual numbers’. Yet our responses identified almost 400 more looked after children and care leavers as eligible. Each represents a child whose live could be severely impacted if they are left behind by the EUSS.
The Home Office needs to do a great deal more work with local government to ensure each and every eligible child and young person has been identified and secured status.
Facts and figures
of identified children have yet to apply
of identified eligible children and care leavers have secured status
Impacts on young people
To fail to apply for one eligible child could mean their suddenly, through no fault of their own, being cut off from essential services and support as of 1 July 2021. They will lose the right to work, rent, hold a bank account or a driving license. Any period of unlawful residence will have serious impacts on any future application for citizenship and if a young person has ambitions to attend university, impact their eligibility for student finance. They could also face deportation from the UK. Even a child who applies late will have a period of unlawful status in the UK – from 1 July 2021 until such time as they have affirmatively secured status.
To avoid these outcomes much needs to be done in the few months remaining until the EUSS deadline to ensure all eligible looked after children and care leavers are identified, applications are made and their status is secured. Last year, we supported efforts in Parliament to streamline the EUSS process for children in care and care leavers. Unfortunately, the Government did not support the measures suggested. While we still feel the Home Office could do more, the burden of action has been placed on local authorities.
Local authorities must now leverage all available support (including assistance from organisations funded to assist with EUSS applications) to ensure these vulnerable children are identified and secure the status to which they are entitled. These applications (particularly now during coronavirus restrictions) take time, and time is running out.
For the reasons set out above, we called on Local Authorities to:
- Recognise the corporate responsibility for ensuring no looked after child or care leaver finds themselves without lawful status in the UK after 30 June 2021. Local authorities, scrutiny committees and corporate parenting panels have a vital role to play to ensure that no child or vulnerable young person is left behind by the EUSS. Effective monitoring and tracking are key to ensuring that local authorities are acting in the best interests of all looked after children and care leavers in their area.
- Continue to work identifying children in care or entitled to care leaving support who must secure status under the EUSS. Local authorities need to have an accurate picture of how many children need to apply to the scheme. For children and young people who may be able to claim or register as British, legal advice must be sought to ensure their best interests are upheld.
- Ensure looked after children and care leavers who have been identified as needing to secure status under the EUSS have applied by 30 June 2021. After this date, these children and young people will be unlawfully in the UK which will have devastating impacts on their future and well-being.
We call on the Home Office and Department for Education to:
- Support and resource local government bodies to continue identifying children and young people in their care who must secure status through the EUSS, ensure they have applied before the deadline and secure status. Overseeing the EUSS and aware of the problems which exist for this cohort, Government must work with local government to ensure no child is left behind. Additional resources must be provided to already-stretched local authorities to ensure they can undertake these pressing tasks expeditiously.
- In light of the impacts of the coronavirus restrictions, the Government must extend the EUSS deadline beyond June 2021, alongside continued outreach, support and monitoring. Restrictions have led to the closure of frontline services, embassy offices, Home Office provision and local ID services, causing significant delays for those seeking to apply.
- The Home Office need to commit to accepting all out of time applications by looked after children and care leavers, whether they are under or over 18 at the time of the EUSS deadline, and protect their immigration status despite any out of time applications. Aware that there are many in this cohort who will still need to have applications made after 30 June, the Home Office must ensure they are not detrimentally impacted and protect their lawful status until such time as a late application has been made and they have secured EUSS status.
- To avoid the risk created by pre-settled status, the Home Office should issue settled status to looked after children and care leavers. It is only right that these children and young people are granted a permanent status so they do not face yet another cliff edge in the future and the risk of losing status at that time.
- Physical documentation of status should be issued to looked after children and care leavers. Recognising their reliance on a corporate parent and constantly changing personnel, physical documentation will ensure their status and its accessibility are not wholly dependent on local authority record keeping.