Many EU citizens have been hit by a failure to issue essential documentation in a timely manner,EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN


EU citizens’ watchdog turns on UK over paperwork delays


The UK government has been left red-faced over embarrassing shortcomings discovered by the watchdog it set up to monitor European Union citizens’ rights in the UK following Brexit.

An official inquiry found thousands of Europeans had been left lacking the necessary paperwork to enable them to rent property, open a bank account, travel or access benefits while awaiting a decision on their settlement status.

The Independent Monitoring Authority for Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) – established to placate EU concerns over the treatment of its nationals living in the UK – said a severe shortage of Home Office caseworkers was largely responsible. The situation resulted in a failure to issue essential documentation to a “significant number” of the 1.7 million cases that required assistance in a timely manner, it said.

Those caught up in the delays had applied for the right to remain in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) and were entitled to receive a Certificate of Application (CoA) from the Home Office once their identity had been validated. Online, this was supposed to happen immediately, and even postal applications were expected to take only five days. That allowed time for applicants to build their case for the right to remain and ensured they could enjoy a host of rights they were entitled to until their application was decided upon.

However, the IMA found delays of almost a year in issuing the CoA in some cases.

It also uncovered instances of financial hardship and evidence of bureaucratic failings leaving some applicants caught in legal limbo, unable to accept jobs because of a lack of proof of residency. Many were also refused permission to travel, had their benefits summarily cut and, when trying to contact the Home Office for updates, found it impossible to speak to any official directly.

While the lack of caseworkers needed to support many applications submitted both online and by post is flagged up as a key issue in the IMA report, it also notes that the Home Office-designed online system, able to deal with an anticipated 3.5 million to 4.1 million EUSS applications, had been swamped by more than 6 million by the June 2021 application deadline.

Home Office officials told the IMA that during that same month, 60,000 postal items relating to applications arrived, equivalent to two years’ intake. The IMA concluded in its report: “The volume of EUSS applications that were received, especially around the EUSS deadline, appears to have overwhelmed the system.”

Struggling to cope with the influx of post in June, the Home Office also received a deluge of 22,000 email applications – causing the online mail system to crash. The email method was abandoned less than a month later.

The EUSS offers the chance of permanent residency to EU nationals who were living in the UK before December 31, 2020 and who had applied for settled status before June 2021. The IMA inquiry looked into the number of applications around two cut-off dates, in June 2021 and June 2022, in trying to determine whether the necessary CoAs had been issued.

The Home Office has three months to respond to the IMA findings and, alongside outlining remedies, it is expected to agree to issue all CoAs within five days going forward.