A quarter of EU citizens living in the UK do not feel they are treated equally to UK citizens, according to the first survey of EU citizens by the watchdog set to protect their rights published on Thursday (13 May).
The survey of 3,000 EU nationals resident in the UK by the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA), also underscored a general lack of trust in UK public bodies.
A full 30% of respondents said that they were not confident their citizens’ rights will be upheld by public bodies. Meanwhile, 50% were not aware of their citizens’ rights; and 1 in 10 are considering leaving the UK after 30 June after the grace period for applications to the settlement scheme ends.
Of those surveyed, 31% cited a lack of trust in the government, while 11% pointed to the impact and negativity associated with the Brexit process.
“It’s clear that there are issues of trust for EU citizens […] and there is a real need for public authorities of all types to take action to build this trust through their actions and by also recognising the role they play in promoting citizens’ rights in legislation, policy and practice,” said Dr Kathryn Chamberlain, IMA Chief Executive.
“We will continue to engage, challenge and work with public bodies to make sure they understand these rights,” she added.
Around 5 million EU nationals have applied for residence in the UK under its Settled Status scheme. Of those, 97% were offered settled status, which grants indefinite rights to remain in the UK, or pre-settled status, which offers a five-year stay, which the option to apply for settled status at the end of it.
Free movement to and from the UK ended on 31 December when the post-Brexit transition period ended and was replaced by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and UK. EU citizens resident in the UK have until 30 June to secure their status.
The Home Office is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 320,000 applications, prompting further concerns from the IMA and civil society groups.
“Someone who has applied to the EU settlement scheme by the 30 June deadline but has not had a decision by then will have their rights protected until their application is decided,” promised Immigration Minister Kevin Foster.
The IMA said on Monday that it was “in dialogue” with the Home Office and would “assess whether we have reasonable grounds to conduct an inquiry”.
There has also been confusion over whether EU citizens with pre-settled status enjoy the same rights to welfare benefits in the UK such as universal credit and housing benefit as those with settled status and British nationals.
A ruling by the UK’s Court of Appeal in December confirmed that those with pre-settled status must be treated on an equal basis with other claimants.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]