The deadline for applications to the government’s EU Settlement Scheme will not be extended beyond the end of June, a minister has warned, as tens of thousands face having their benefits cut.
Home Office minister Kevin Foster said postponing the cut-off point would create “uncertainty”, adding that all those who make an application before June 30 “will have their rights protected”.
There have been concerns that, despite the scheme’s deadline being just over a week away, there are reportedly around 70,000 European benefits claimants living in the UK who have not yet applied.
It is believed a large number of these individuals receive universal credit.
Leaked Whitehall documents from the beginning of June seen by The Times reportedly showed around one in six of the total number of EU citizens who currently claim benefits were yet to sign up for settled status.
The home office have not provided an estimate of how many EU citizens living in the UK have yet to apply, but a spokesperson from the department said the number of applications has “exceeded the estimate”.
But, despite the reportedly large number of individuals who may slip through the net and find their benefits cut off beyond the 30 June deadline without securing settled status, Mr Foster was clear there would be no extension to the scheme beyond this point.
“The EUSS has been open publicly since March 2019. We believe this has given people plenty of time to apply,” he said.
“The sheer fact there have been over 5.6 million applications by the end of last month is testament to this.
“I want to be clear – we will not be extending the deadline.
“Put simply, extending the deadline is not a solution in itself to reaching those people who have not yet applied and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating even more uncertainty.”
The home office minister added that officials are “concerned” by claims that the cut-off to the scheme will leave people “in legal limbo” if their applications have not been fully processed.
Mr Foster stressed that there will be “no loss of rights while applications are pending”, adding: “They will also be able to enter the UK as a resident and access benefits – nothing changes until the application is concluded.”
The UK’s scheme “goes above and beyond those of our counterparts”, Mr Foster said.
“It is important to remind people why we have the scheme – to distinguish between EU citizens who lived here before the transition period and those who come here after.”
He added that the scheme is “simple” to apply for, with individuals having to prove their identity, show they live in the UK and disclose any criminal convictions they have.
It is also free of charge to apply to, the home office minister said, noting that his department has spent £8 million on an advertising campaign encouraging people to apply.
Mr Foster did however add that those with “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline would still be able to apply to the scheme in future and that there is a system to deal with late applications.
“They will have the same rights from the day they are granted status as those who did not miss the deadline,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson added that the department are “planning to be very flexible around reasonable grounds for late appeal”.
On Monday, the government said it is working hard to identify those who have yet to apply for the new post-Brexit residency scheme ahead next week’s cut-off date.
Downing Street said only a “small minority” of those eligible had yet to come forward.
Settled status is given to people who have been living in the UK continuously for a five-year period.
Those who were living in the UK prior to Brexit but have not yet reached the five-year milestone are originally awarded pre-settled status which can become settled status if they stay.