EU settled status application system branded 'shambles'

28 January 2019 5 min. read

A Government mobile phone app designed by a team of consultancies has been pilloried by frustrated users, who fear its poor accessibility means they may lose their legal status to live and work in the UK after Brexit. With the settled status system having been labelled a ‘shambles’, critics are concerned that thousands of the 3.5 million EU citizens due to apply could lose their residence rights overnight.

In the latter stages of 2018, an expose by Buzzfeed News declared that at the time, the UK Government had signed up to more than a dozen consulting contracts on the matter of Brexit, worth around £40 million. The online news provider went on to assert that the bulk of this figure was being spent on a new ‘settled status’ scheme for EU citizens living in Britain. While it is unclear whether the figure of £75 million which this consulting spend has since ballooned to includes the same portion devoted towards settled status solutions, either way, it has undoubtedly consumed significant public funds.

Further back, in May 2018, as the debate as to what kind of deal will be made for EU nationals residing in the UK – not to mention UK nationals residing in the EU – raged on, the UK Government tapped a collective of five consulting firms to develop an immigration app, designed to register EU citizens living in the UK post-2019. Accenture, BJSS, Capgemini, Deloitte Digital and Worldreach were commissioned to develop the platform that will ultimately be used by millions of EU citizens to apply for settled status.

EU settled status application system branded 'shambles'

The resulting app has since launched, and has been broadly met with condemnation from both users, and immigration experts, who have warned that the settled status scheme as a whole threatens to become the Government’s next ‘Windrush Scandal’. That particular episode saw people who arrived in the UK some 50 years ago wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in around 63 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office, who had previously destroyed records of their legal arrival under the stewardship of then-Home Secretary Theresa May.

An estimated 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK now need to apply to stay after March 29th 2019, and warnings have already been issued that thousands of people could be left without legal status if applications are not processed quickly and efficiently. Despite this stark forecast, the app which was eventually developed and launched by the consultancies is incompatible with a broad range of devices. The Settled Status app only works on devices using Android 6.0, which was introduced in October 2015, meaning older Android phones which have not updated cannot use it, while it does not function on Apple devices at all.

Speaking to UK news site, Tord Nilson, who runs a digital marketing agency and managed to navigate the process, said, “I am still waiting to hear back but it’s really frustrating to have to prove that I belong here. One of the questions is even “Where were you born?”… I am still waiting to hear if I can stay and the whole thing is very upsetting and frustrating. We are in limbo. It’s a shambles and there will be 3.5 million people to process. There’s no hope in hell this will work out.”

New Windrush

For EU citizens looking to apply, Settled Status requests can also be input manually, at one of 13 document scanning locations across the country – potentially at great expense or distance. Worse still, however the IT system which local authorities have been using at these locations has also routinely failed. As a result, a large number of frustrated would-be-applicants have already taken to social media to say they were delaying their applications until teething problems had been ironed out.

Home Office officials expect they can process about 6,000 applications a day, but the technical issues could lead to a rush of later applicants before the deadline, which they would likely not be able to handle. Critics have also suggested that even when it works, the app and IT system might be difficult to navigate, especially for older or vulnerable citizens, and there could be technical difficulties matching names and official records.

Jill Rutter, Programme Director for Better Policy Making at the Institute for Government said of the scenario, “The Home Office must invest in getting the EU settlement scheme right from the start. Failure to do so could cause massive problems in years to come, on a far bigger scale than the Windrush Scandal. The stakes are high. Get it right and the UK sends a strong message that EU citizens are welcome and the Government is in control. Get it wrong and the consequences are dire.”

Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director at the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants, meanwhile told the Guardian, “EU citizens who do not pay to apply for settled status by 2021 will lose their right to live in the UK and become undocumented… With 3 million to 4 million people needing to register, that means creating tens or hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants overnight. The poor, the elderly, [and] those with illnesses or disabilities will be particularly affected as the government is failing to set aside enough resources to help them.”