The first public test phase of the EU Settlement Scheme has now completed its first month. This has not been without issues and technical glitches. Overall, the feedback on this test phase is positive but being a test phase, it has limited functionality. This has left a lot of people confused and concerned about how the scheme will eventually work when it fully opens on 30 March 2019.
On 19 February 2019, the Guardian published an article highlighting the issues faced by some of the users of the EU Settlement Phase. The Government has now helpfully, but albeit in a defensive manner, provided some useful clarification on the issues raised.
The EU Settlement Scheme, unlike the previous EU freedom of movement rules, does not require economic activity. It only has three core requirements – that you are an EU citizen (or family member of one), that you are living here, and that you are not a serious or persistent criminal.
The public test phase of the EU Settlement Scheme requires an Android device. The device may be borrowed from family, friends or obtained (by paying a small fee) from your local council.
However, when the Scheme fully opens, the applications will not be limited to the use of an Android phone. Individuals will be able to use any desktop, laptop or mobile device to make an application. When the Scheme is fully live at the end of March, use of the app will be entirely optional – it is just one of several ways people will be able to verify their identity, including by post or face to face at an application centre.
The public test phase provides additional help to applicants using 13 centres. The Government states that this assistance will be widened to over 50 centres with an additional postal route for ID checks. Telephone support will also continue when the scheme fully opens.
The Government states that an applicant only needs to show that that they have been resident in the UK, they do not need to account for every absence. They say that their automatic checks against Government database are working well resulting in high levels of successful cases.
If the automated check does not work, evidence of residence from a wide range of residence documentation may be submitted, reflecting the variety of people’s individual circumstances. The government states that they will work with applicants without official documentation to establish their eligibility under the scheme from the material they have.
The government has provided a somewhat cryptic response on whether they are struggling to keep up with applications. Whilst they mention that 81% of cases were processed within a week in the second private testing phase, the volume of applications was much lower in that phase compared to the current public testing phase.
The government states that it has received over 100,000 applications in the test phases and has received over 8,000 on the first day of public testing. It says that it has invested heavily in utilising automated technology and has deployed 1500 caseworkers to support this scheme.
However, there are approximately 3.5 million EU Citizens in the UK and an overwhelming number will need to apply under this scheme. Therefore, it remains yet to be seen how the system will cope when it fully opens.