Campaign group calls for local authorities to lead on supporting applications as only a quarter of EU citizens in some areas have applied so far
Application rates to the EU Settlement Scheme vary widely by local authority, with those made in two areas being equivalent to just a quarter of the residents that need to apply for settled status in order to remain in the UK.
More than 2.6 million non-Irish European nationals had applied to the scheme by the end of December, using an online process with identity documents checked through a mobile app, by post or in person, according to Home Office data published on 6 February.
There were 3.6 million such people resident in the UK in the year ending June 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), suggesting that, as of the beginning of this year, nearly three-quarters of the overall number of potential applicants had undertaken the process.
But an analysis of the two sets of data based on local authority areas suggests that, for some parts of the country, this proportion was only around one-quarter.
Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire has seen 2,580 applications, compared with an estimated non-Irish European population of 12,000.
From Sevenoaks in Kent, meanwhile, the Home Office has received 2,230 applications, while the estimated population is 10,000.
The proportion is below half for 13 further areas of England and Wales: Cheshire East; Kirklees; Lincoln; East Staffordshire; Breckland in Norfolk; Colchester and Harlow in Essex; Hertsmere in Hertfordshire; Swale in Kent; Woking in Surrey; Exeter; and the London boroughs of Bromley and Westminster.
The Home Office had received 26,750 applications from the borough of Westminster compared with an estimated population of 55,000.
Irish citizens are excluded from these figures as they can continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit under the Common Travel Area agreement and very few have applied to the scheme. Analysis only includes areas of England and Wales where the ONS estimates a non-Irish European population of at least 10,000.
The ONS warned about comparing the two data sets, saying the latter is based on a household sample survey, making it subject to statistical uncertainty – something which is higher in smaller areas. It added that a very small number of people may have applied more than once to the scheme and that some people covered by its research will not intend or need to apply to the scheme.
These problems are demonstrated by the fact that the analysis shows that for Leeds, Wolverhampton and five London boroughs, the Home Office has received more applications than the total estimate of non-Irish Europeans for the area. The ONS said it is working to improve its migration and population statistics, partly by making greater use of government administrative data.
The3million, a campaign group supporting European citizens in the UK, said the data suggested worryingly low rates of applications in some areas.
“EU citizens are part of a huge digital experiment by the Home Office,” said Maike Bohn, its co-founder. “The government needs to reach all 3.6 million EU citizens and their family members to tell them they have to apply for settled status or become unlawful in 2021. If the government fails to reach just a small percentage of individuals this means misery for tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people.”
Those who do not get an appropriate status could be unable to rent property, open a bank account, access healthcare or take a job, she added.
She said there were likely to be different reasons why certain areas had lower application rates.
“Some of the issues are demographic – the UK has a large population of elderly Italians. which explains the relatively low application rate of Italians in some areas. Others are related to occupation. Lincolnshire, for example, has many seasonal farm workers who live on farms and are fairly isolated, so the Home Office’s limited information campaign might not have reached them.”
Bohn argued that local authorities should lead on supporting applications.
“What happens if you can’t handle the technology of applying or mistakenly think a national insurance number is enough and you don’t need to apply for the new status?” Bohn said. “We urge the government to shift to a delegated local approach and step up both its outreach and support for EU citizens. It needs to invest millions more in true local help where people live.”
The EU plans to help groups who lack information or the ability to use the digital application process, according to its new ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida. He told the Guardian that EU officials have held talks with the Home Office on helping those within the criminal justice system.
The Home Office said the scheme is “as straightforward as possible”, with nearly 2.9 million people already granted status. The most recently monthly statistics, which do not include local data, show the scheme it had received more than 3.1 million applications by the end of January.
“There is plenty of support online, over the phone and in person, including through over 50 organisations funded by the Home Office to support vulnerable and hard-to-reach people to apply,” a spokesperson said. “A new wave of advertising is currently under way, with innovative pop-up events being held across the UK and ongoing outreach work with charities and local authorities. All of this is informed by data.”
Notes on maps
Areas highlighted have an estimated non-Irish European population of at least 10,000, according to ONS data. Red indicates areas where applications to the EU Settlement Scheme from non-Irish Europeans are equivalent to less than half the relevant population, as per ONS data. Yellow indicates a ratio between half and three-quarters and green indicates a ratio above three-quarters.