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Documents, deadlines, deportation: Brexit's potential implications for homelessness

Gareth Lynn Montes, research officer, writes about some of the potentially harmful implications of the UK leaving the EU for people experiencing homelessness.

On January 31st 2020, the UK left the European Union, with the transition period ending less than a year later. The implications of this are far reaching and the consequences still difficult to quantify, but homelessness is among the potentially affected areas.

One of the wider implications of the UK’s exit from the EU is in the status of non-British nationals, with citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) now having the same immigration status as those from the rest of the world. As a result, EEA+ citizens living in the UK have had to apply for settled status (European Union Settlement Scheme EUSS) to continue to benefit from the services they had previously been entitled to in the UK. According to the UK Government, so far, 4,881,100 applications have been submitted, of which, 4,488,700 have been completed. The UK Government has set a deadline of June 30th 2021 as the last day that people can apply to the settlement scheme. In Wales, more than 74,000 people had applied for the EUSS by the end of November 2020.

A joint report by WPI Economics, Crisis and Homeless Link (Homelessness and the Impact of Brexit) noted that particularly those EU nationals that are homeless may not make the application for settled status. In Wales, up to 6,000 EU citizens, including elderly people and people experiencing homelessness, have yet to apply to stay in the UK according to Newport Mind. There are many reasons why people have not applied for EUSS: economic (there is an £85 fee involved); fear of being rejected; mistrust of officials; language barriers; computer illiteracy; no online access (the application can only be done online) or simply because they do not know they have to. 

Furthermore, even for those who can, there are barriers to demonstrating they have lived in the UK for the required amount of time continuously because they lack the proper documentation to do so. Others have had to wait around a year for their documentation to arrive, meaning that with six months remaining for the EUSS deadline, for some, there may not be enough time if they start now.

This may result in a worrying situation where EU nationals could find themselves, in some cases unknowingly, without access to the services and support they currently rely on or may have to rely on in the future. Under the UK Home Office’s ‘hostile environment policy’, this will extend to their access to housing and health services, which is likely to increase the number of people who are destitute and experiencing homeless. 

A Guardian article argued that the UK Government’s “draconian immigration laws” mean that “rough sleeping will become grounds for refusal of, or cancellation of permission to be in the UK”. Charities fear this will prevent people from seeking the support they need, as noted by Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter. Similarly, a report by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters found that victims of abuse are not coming forward because of their insecure immigration status. 

Whilst previous rulings for deportation for rough sleeping have been ruled unlawful, there is a risk that vulnerable people could be deported. For example, with some EU countries such as Hungary and Poland passing anti-LGBT+ legislation, deporting an LGBT+ person to either country or another country with stricter LGBT+ laws and less public support, would be very dangerous for that person. 

In November, Cymorth Cymru was a joint signatory with 70 other organisations urging UK Government to reconsider dangerous new immigration rules making rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling someone’s right to remain in the UK.

In 2019, 22% of all people sleeping rough in the UK were from the EU. Whilst it is doubtful that the same percentage is true for Wales, with Brexit, they have become a group with specific needs which requires specific attention, regardless of its size. 

A ground-breaking report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) (When the Clapping Stops: EU Care Workers After Brexit), found that it is a similar situation for care workers, and thus, it would not be a far stretch to speculate, homelessness frontline workers across the UK. A very high percentage of care workers surveyed in the report were unaware of the EUSS and that there was a deadline involved. Nearly half of care workers surveyed online by JCWI received help with their application. Of those who received help, 77% said that this support was a ‘quite’ (~32%) or ‘very’ (~41%) important part of the process. JCWI fear that “large numbers of EEA+ care workers losing their legal status would devastate a care sector which was already under significant pressure before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Immigration is not a devolved matter and it is difficult to see how the Welsh Government could influence or counteract the UK Government’s current position. In spite of this, there is still plenty that can be done. The Welsh Government has run social media campaigns and provided funding organisations such as Citizens Advice, Settled, Newfield Law and local authorities to reach out an connect with EU citizens As the deadline approaches, the Welsh Government should make every effort to increase communication with EU citizens in Wales to ensure they are aware of the EUSS and know where they can access support and advice, particularly those who are marginalised and are digitally excluded.

As a sector, we must also raise awareness of the EUSS and its deadline and support in as many ways as possible the people that will be affected by not filling in the application. Housing associations and charities should consider their workforce and the people they support and make sure their immigration status is secure, and if not, offer support. There are a number of organisations out there offering such support, among them Newfields Law, an immigration law firm based in Cardiff, whom we spoke to in a previous blog post. If you would like assistance to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, or you know someone else who needs help, get in touch at: info@newfieldslaw.com 

Other organisations offering EU citizens’ immigration advice service in Wales in conjunction with Welsh Government can be found here.

In December, the Guardian reported that a growing number of councils, charities and other organisations have pledged to boycott new Home Office rules to criminalise and deport migrant rough sleepers, voicing concerns that cooperating with this would break trust with people using services.

Organisations in Wales should consider their position on this, reflecting on their role in building trust and supporting people, rather than enforcing immigration law. In the meantime, local authorities and support providers should offer information, guidance and support to access the EUSS to EEA+ nationals who engage with homelessness support teams. 

Homeless Link have key information, principles and good practice in response to EEA nationals experiencing homelessness available on their website. However, some of the information is England specific and it should probably be a priority to develop cross-sectorial guidance for Wales.

Organisations in Wales should join the initiative set by other organizations across the UK such as JCWI and demand that the UK Government withdraws the June 30th deadline for the EUSS and grants all EEA+ citizens automatic settled status. Additionally, the UK Government should be asked to create and publish comprehensive and flexible guidance for late applications, to automatically upgrade pre-settled status to settled status, to bring EUSS cases within the scope of legal aid and to provide all EEA+ citizens with physical documentation as proof of status to avoid future complications. 

In all, much has to be done before the looming deadline of June 30th. It is indispensable that support reaches those who need it the most now before they lose their legal rights and the support that entails.

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© Cymorth Cymru 2021
Company Registration No: 5093332
Charity No: 1116774