Age UK has written to the Home Office asking for urgent formal assurance that older EU nationals in the UK will not at some point in the future find themselves shut out of the NHS and other crucial public services, or even worse put at risk of deportation, if they do not apply to the EU settlement scheme in time. The deadlines for registering is 30 June 2021 if the UK leaves the EU with a deal and 31st December 2020 if the UK leaves without one.
The Charity is deeply worried that despite Government marketing campaigns and support to community groups to contact EU nationals in their localities there are bound to be significant numbers of older people who will remain blissfully unaware of the need to register, or who for a number of practical reasons will be unable to do so.
About 118,000 EU nationals aged 65 and above are required to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme[i] they include significant numbers who have been resident in the UK for forty years or more, who are in extreme old age and who are struggling with disability, physical ill health, dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.
The most recent data on the number of applications to the Settlement Scheme show that so far, older people are a lot less likely to have made an application to the EUSS than working age people (16% compared to 30%). [ii].
Of the 118,000 older people required to apply to the Scheme only 19,210 have made applications 14,240 have been granted settled status and 2,660 have been granted pre-settled status. 90 applications were withdrawn/void and 2,220 were not concluded by 30th June. [iii]
The Government’s expectation is that most people will register for the Scheme online and the process is very much designed with this in mind. If you apply online you are required not only to complete a form but also to scan and upload specific documents to prove your identity. However, a quarter of over-65s (24%) have not used the internet at all in the last three months [iv] and the proportions of older people who are not online rise sharply as you go up the age range. In addition, many people in extreme old age do not have a valid passport because they are no longer able to travel. So even if they are aware of the existence of the Scheme Age UK believes that some older people will be defeated by the process of applying to it.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “A compulsory Settlement Scheme, designed to operate mostly online and with potentially dire consequences for anyone who fails to comply with it, spells big trouble ahead we fear for thousands of older people who have lived for donkey’s years in this country.”
“The Windrush scandal, which let’s remember is not over yet, showed that it is all too easy for older people who have resided in the UK for many years to get badly hurt when they were unable, through no fault of their own, to evidence their right to remain in the UK. It is desperately important that we do not see a re-run, only this time affecting older people from other parts of the EU who have lived in this country, and made a valuable contribution to it, in many cases for the best part of a lifetime.”
“Scale and cost mean that officialdom is increasingly requiring us to apply for everything online, and woe betide you if you are not internet savvy or do not have a friend or relative to help. Yet this is the position of significant numbers of older people in our society. It’s bad enough when what’s at stake is a Blue Badge for your car, but in this instance we are talking about the ability of an older person to get essential medical treatment or their welfare entitlements, even possibly to stay here at all.”
“It’s not good enough for governments to create all-age systems that fail to take the needs of our oldest citizens into account. And when it comes to the EU Settlement Scheme our concern goes beyond the ability of an older person to navigate the application process to whether they are aware they have to apply at all. Older people living with dementia and older people who are not in touch with public services and who keep themselves to themselves are especially at risk we believe, and they should not be penalised as a result. We sincerely hope that the Home Office will provide us with the urgent assurances we seek.”