Some vulnerable EU nationals are currently facing difficult times as they have “nowhere to go” for an assistant to fix their application to stay in the UK because the Home Office dropped the announcement of the all-important funding until the “last minute”.
The Home Office department announced on Friday that it would allocate a further £8m to assist vulnerable and at-risk people, such as domestic abused victims and children in care, apply to the EU Settlement Scheme three weeks before the current funding is due to run out.
Currently, 57 charity organizations receive fund from the Home Office department to provide this support after being granted a total of £9m last April. Although many said they had not been carrying out full services due to uncertainty as to whether the department’s funding would continue after the month of March.
However, the Home Office department said all the 57 charity organization would have their funding extended until the end of June 2020. Then the NGOs would have the chance to apply for the new pot of funding to provide support for people who need help applying to the scheme which the EU citizens living in Britain “must” do before June 2021 if they want to retain immigration rights after Brexit.
Minister for future borders and immigration, Kevin Foster, assured that the new investment would ensure that “no stone would be left unturned in ensuring everyone gets the help they need”.
Although campaigners welcomed the new funding, they said it was “regrettable” that it was announced, “so late in the day”. They also advised that one-off pots of funding would not be enough to meet the needs of many people with highly complex issues.
Bethan Lant, casework, training and advocacy manager at Praxis, which is currently funded to provide the support, said: “We are pleased to hear that the Home Office intends to continue the funding, although it is regrettable that this decision was taken so late in the day.
“Because of the uncertainty around funding, for the past month we have been unable to support the most vulnerable people with their application, as in some cases it takes months to gather the evidence needed to apply, and we didn’t know whether the funding would be there to complete the work on their applications. Some members of staff working on the scheme may have left their posts for more secure positions.”
Ms Lant also called on the Home Office to avoid a “cliff-edge” scenario where most people will become undocumented just for missing the deadline and demanded clarity around the circumstances under which applications would still be accepted following the cut-off date.
Project officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Caitlin Boswell Jones, said the £8m investment was well appreciated while stating that it “barely touched” what was needed to support all vulnerable people, and advised ministers to grant automatic settled status to all EU nationals.
“Before this last-minute announcement, many charities have been so underfunded that they have been forced to close waiting lists, leaving people like survivors of domestic violence with nowhere to turn for support,” she said.
“The government refuses to acknowledge that no amount of funding will ensure everyone applies in time. The likelihood is that tens of thousands of EU nationals will be unable to apply, will then fall out of status and become vulnerable to the hostile environment.”
Policy manager at Coram’s migrant children’s project, Marianne Lagrue, said the charity welcomed the Home Office’s announcement but warned that a finite pot of money the lasts for one year was “not going to cut it” for a scheme for which applications are going to get increasingly complex.
“The concentration of complex case within the number of cases that remain is getting bigger and bigger as we get closer to the deadline. We expect that there will be a flurry towards the deadline, and there will be people who miss it. Whether or not there will continue to be public money available to assist these people remains an unanswered question,” she said.
“The funding needs to be guaranteed in perpetuity and to adequately meet the need and complexity of the cases.”
“Rather than creating something new specifically to meet the needs of this cohort, the Home Office needs to fund the basic tenets of the welfare state that are there to capture these people with their legal problems,” she said.
“The government needs to take a holistic view of the long-term needs of people. Anyone with a complex case and anyone who has an appeal should be eligible for legal aid.”