Yesterday, the Home Office released the latest EU Settlement Scheme statistics up to 29 February 2020. According to the report 235,000 applications were received during the month of February and 268,000 were concluded. Of the concluded applications, 55% of the applicants were granted settled status and 42% pre-settled status. Of the remaining applications, 4,300 were withdrawn or treated as void, 2,000 were invalid, and most importantly, 300 applications were refused on grounds of eligibility.
This rise in refusals is concerning not only because it is significantly higher than in previous months (only 7 refusals were recorded from April 2019 until January 2020) but also because it is the first time that we have seen refusals on eligibility grounds (i.e. failure to provide evidence of the residence in the UK) rather than on suitability grounds.
The Home Office states that there are two main reasons for this increase. The first involves applicants failing to provide eligibility evidence, either at the application stage or in reply to requests from the EU Settlement Scheme resolution centre. The second involves non-EEA family members failing to provide evidence of their relationship to their EEA national sponsor. This could include, failing to provide a marriage certificate, or not producing a ‘relevant document’ (i.e. residence card or family permit issued under the EEA Regulations 2016) as a dependent relative.
Although the above statistics show a considerable jump in refusals, it is worth noting that the number remains proportionately small if we compare it with the number of applications submitted and concluded since the scheme opened in March 2019. However, this mysterious escalation in refusals cannot be taken lightly as they may surely involve vulnerable applicants who are facing difficulties in obtaining evidence of their residence in the UK (i.e. homeless individuals) or are having difficulties in proving their relationship with EU national sponsors (i.e. many non-EU national women who have separated from their sponsor due to domestic violence).
The troubling delay of the Home Office to allocate further funding to help organisations to support the most at risk people, together with the current unprecedented situation with Covid-19, which is decreasing the already limited amount of free legal assistance available, may certainly mean that many people will ‘fall through the cracks’ by missing the scheme’s cut-off to apply and possibly become unlawfully resident in the UK.