‘No change to digital approach’ – Home Office quashes suggestion of physical settled status documents

Government responds to comments made by European parliament’s Brexit chief

Credit: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

The Home Office has quashed reports that EU citizens granted settled status might be able to demonstrate their status with a physical document.

The European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt yesterday met with EU exit secretary Steve Barclay. Discussing the meeting on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Verhofstadt picked out the lack of paper documents for settled status as one of several major “anxieties within EU citizens living in Britain”.

“People want a physical document, that they can prove that they have this settled status,” he said. “Because, in fact, millions have already received that settled status. But they are saying: ‘how can I prove it?’”

He added: “In the past, the government said they [can] take a screenshot of a decision. But you cannot live with a screenshot of your computer… yesterday they said they’re gonna look [at this], that people can print it, so they can have a physical document…the people will have the possibility to have a printout – probably a PDF document.”

When asked whether Barclay had directly told him that the government was considering providing physical documents to EU nationals granted settled status, Verhofstadt replied: “that was a conclusion of our conversation”.

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If the Home Office were to decide to issue such documentation, it would represent a major policy U-turn; despite repeated and grave warnings from politicians and advocacy groups, the department has thus far held firm on its decision to provide digital-only status.

And, in a statement issued in light of Verhofstadt’s comments, the Home Office reiterated that “there is no change to our digital approach”.

It said that applicants to the settlement scheme have always had the option of printing out emails or online application updates – but that this does not represent any official proof of status. 

“It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can’t be used as evidence of status,” the Home Office said. “The EU Settlement Scheme grants people with a secure, digital status which future-proofs their rights. Physical documents can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with.”

The comparative lack of security of paper documents has long been cited by the Home Office as the primary reason for its determination to persist with digital-only status.

Select committees from both houses of parliament have warned the department that the situation has “clear parallels with Windrush”. In May 2019 the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee instructed the government to offer physical documents to all future applicants – and to retroactively issue them to those who had already been granted status. 

But the Home Office rejected this recommendation, pointing to the risks of forgery and theft inherent in paper documents.

“In addition, there are circumstances in which an individual’s status document can be controlled by another person – for example, in cases of domestic violence, modern slavery and human trafficking. Moving to a digital status is a step forward in tackling those who seek to control others. A digital status is also easier to use for visually impaired users, who may have difficulty reading a physical document.”


Sam Trendall

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