Demonstrators gather at Westminster following the Brexit referendum. Image: Garon S/Flickr
In association with O2
EU citizens in the UK are struggling to access work, housing and benefits because of the Home Office’s patchy digital system, according to a new report.
The investigation by the3million – a grassroots organisation set up by EU citizens in the UK after the Brexit referendum – heard from frontline experts that the so-called View and Prove portal was failing people who needed evidence of their right to live in the UK.
Problems in the system are leading to “vulnerable individuals missing out on vital welfare support or even being forced into destitution,” said Kasia Makowska, EU rights adviser at the Public Interest Law Centre, who contributed to the research.
The digital platform is the only way those already given the right to remain through the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) can view and provide evidence of their immigration status, including when trying to rent, apply for loans and secure a job.
But researchers gathering testimony since 2020 said many people experienced delays and errors using the system – which can only be accessed if a person still has the ID documentation used to set it up – resulting in them losing out on work opportunities and being unable to travel.
The exclusively digital nature of proving one’s rights is locking out the most vulnerable people from services and support, the report said.
“The EU citizens we support are at high risk of homelessness, including rough sleeping and other forms of social exclusion. They often lack basic digital literacy and access to technology, and many speak little or no English,” Makowska added.
“We would estimate that around ten to 15 per cent of our homeless EU clients feel able to use the EUSS digital portal independently.”
It is very common for people sleeping rough to lose or be robbed of personal items such as mobile phones and ID while on the streets, Makowska said, adding that a number of people have contacted the organisation for help in recent months because they have been unable to access their online profile.
A person risks losing their access to their digital proof of immigration status if they update or change their ID, the3million researchers said, including when they renew a passport, after many people reported the service “failing” when they tried to update their details.
View and Prove alone is not a “viable means for people to prove their status”, a spokesperson said.
“Every life event requiring proof of status now requires a transaction with a government website,” they added, “which requires understanding, digital know-how, access to technology, internet, and an email address [or] telephone number in hand for security confirmation codes.
“Alternatives need to be explored to ensure that people can have personal access to, and ownership of, proof of their right to live in the UK, rather than having to repeatedly obtain permission from the Home Office acting as a gatekeeper to their status.”
From April 6, a rule change will mean employers and landlords cannot check migrants’ right to work or rent using physical documents and must rely solely on the online service.
Marginalised people are set to be hit hardest by extended reliance on the digital portal, according to a spokesperson for Citizens Rights Project in Scotland.
“Older citizens have old fashioned phones and no understanding of how to do it online,” they said. “People with mental difficulties will have zero chance to prove their status or do anything else.
“Those living alone, in poverty without the language don’t always have internet at home and if they don’t have family and friends, who will they ask for help?”
Migrants can get help to manage their digital status from the EU Settlement Resolution Centre (EUSRC). But a freedom of information request submitted by the3million showed that 56 per cent of calls to the helpline were abandoned in the 12 months to October 2021. In July last year, the first month that people had to rely solely on the online service, only 31 per cent of calls were handled.
A government spokesperson told the3million: “We acknowledge the move away from physical documents to digital status represents a change which individuals and service providers may take time to get used to.
“This is why it is being rolled out incrementally and with support available to help individuals use their new status.”
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