With the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) deadline looming, CAJ has joined with four other NGOs to sign a joint letter urging the NI Executive to take action to protect the rights of EU citizens and their family members in Northern Ireland.
Re: Protection of EU citizens and their family members’ rights and access to services
The signatories of this letter represent a range of frontline advice organisations and legal experts who have been at the forefront of EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) work in Northern Ireland. We are writing to urge you to take action to protect the rights of EU citizens and their family members in Northern Ireland.
The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of EU nationals who resided in the UK before the 31st December 2020, allowing them to continue to live, study and work in the UK on broadly the same terms as before. These rights can also extend to their non-EU family members. Under the Home Office EU Settlement Scheme EU nationals and their family members benefitting from the Withdrawal Agreement must apply for residence status in the UK under the before the 30th June 2021.
As the deadline approaches, we wish to raise concerns about the treatment of EU citizens and their family members and the discrimination and loss of rights they are facing, and in some cases, already experiencing.
The UK government has been clear that EU nationals and their family members are not required to provide evidence of EUSS status in order to access services or to prove their right to work, before the 30th June 2021. Despite this, Stronger Together members providing housing, advice and health supports to BAME individuals and communities already report issues with GP practices, landlords, letting agencies, employers, social security (UC especially) and NIHE requesting EUSS Share codes and additional documentation. For example NIHE have requested Share codes for people applying for Housing Assistance and retrospectively from those in receipt of Housing Benefit. Some GP practices are requesting Share codes from patients registering with a GP. Indeed, it has not been possible in NI since Jan 2021 to apply for a National Insurance Number unless proof of status was produced.
EU nationals and family members who have applied on time to the EUSS but who do not receive a decision before the 30th June 2021 retain their rights until a decision is made. They can demonstrate this by providing evidence of their application and their EU identity documents. However, there is likely to be uncertainty over this group’s rights when accessing services and confusion over what documents are sufficient to evidence their rights. This makes them vulnerable to loss of employment and being wrongly refused access to services.
The Home Office has confirmed that they will accept late applications to the EUSS for a broad range of reasons. Any EU national or family member resident in the UK before 31st December 2020 who is encountered in the UK without EUSS status after the 30th June 2021, is to be given 28 days to apply. The government has also now indicated that no one should have their benefits stopped due to failing to apply to the EUSS on time. However, EU citizens and their family members who apply after the 30th June have no interim protection or status in the UK until there is a decision made on their application. This creates another group who are vulnerable and at high risk of losing access to services.
The Withdrawal Agreement protects EU citizens from discrimination, meaning service providers and employers have a duty not to discriminate against EU citizens in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. There are also duties under domestic equality legislation to ensure no racial discrimination in access to goods facilities and services, including the need to avoid racial profiling.
It is clear that EU nationals and their family members are already facing discrimination, unlawful checks and being wrongly refused access to services. Much of this seems to be exacerbated by a lack of knowledge, training and guidance amongst key stakeholders. This situation will only deteriorate further after the 30th June 2021 as we see increased complexity and different groups of EU nationals protected by the Withdrawal Agreement emerge. Much of the guidance published also applies only to England and there is very little specialised guidance available regarding EU citizens and their family members resident in Northern Ireland.
The signatories of this letter request that the NI executive acts urgently to collate and disseminate accurate guidance and information on the rights of EU nationals and their family members to employers, businesses and service providers. Further, the signatories request an urgent engagement meeting to follow this letter in order to discuss the issues raised and appropriate responses.
The below signatories are available to contact for further information on the issues highlighted in this letter.
Committee on the Administration of Justice
Centre for Cross Border Studies
Migration Justice Project at Law Centre NI
C.C The Executive Office
Mr Robin Swann, Minister for Health
Ms Deirdre Hargey, Minister for Communities
Ms Nichola Mallon, Minister for Infrastructure
Mr Paul Frew, Minister for Economy
Miss Michelle McIlveen, Minister for Education
Committee for Health
Committee for Communities
Committee for Infrastructure
Committee for Economy
Committee for Education
Committee for the Executive Office