EU scheme offers a route out of homelessness for EU citizens

Ruth Jacob, Senior Policy Officer

Last week, the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee held an evidence session on the EU Settlement Scheme and how it is working so far for vulnerable people. Crisis’ Director of Policy and External Affairs, Matt Downie, gave evidence to the committee, based on our research and the experiences of our services supporting EU citizens to prevent, or resolve, homelessness. Through our 11 Skylight Centres across Britain Crisis has been supporting people experiencing homelessness to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

The EU Settlement Scheme can be a lifeline for people experiencing homelessness in the UK. Currently many EU citizens living in the UK are locked out of essential support that would help them to move out of homelessness – including benefits to help cover rent and basic living essentials when needed and local authority homelessness services. The Settlement Scheme offers EU citizens who have been living here for more than 5 years the opportunity to access this vital support.

Where people have ID and are able to evidence their time in the UK, the scheme works well to enable people to secure their status and rights in the UK. Getting settled status can have a huge impact for someone experiencing homelessness and it is often a significant step to helping end someone’s homelessness.

But some key changes are needed to make sure people aren’t being disadvantaged in this process and left without access to the support that will help them leave homelessness behind for good.

How well is the scheme working?

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals currently living in the UK will need to the apply to the Settlement Scheme by the 30 June 2021 if they want to continue living here after the UK leaves the EU. Depending how long they have been living in the UK successful applicants will receive either settled or pre-settled status.

  • Those who have been living in the UK for more than 5 years should get settled status. This can make a huge difference to the life of someone experiencing homelessness as it opens the door to vital support services that many will previously have been excluded from.
  • Those who haven’t lived in the UK for 5 years or who cannot provide sufficient proof to show how long they’ve lived here will usually get pre-settled status. This can leave people trapped, unable to access the tools they need to move on from homelessness.

Although the application process itself is relatively straightforward – assuming you have internet access and a smartphone, which can be a significant challenge in itself for people experiencing homelessness – it can take months to help someone gather the evidence they need to make an application.

People who are rough sleeping are almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general public, and more than half of those surveyed for Crisis research reported having belongings stolen from them when they were homeless. It is not surprising then that many EU citizens who have been homeless do not have the documents they need to evidence the time they have spent living in the UK. In fact, we find that many people do not even have ID, the first requirement for making an application to the Settlement Scheme.

What needs to change?

During the evidence session, we set out some simple changes that the Government could make to help ensure all EU citizens who have experienced homelessness get the status they are entitled to.

  • Continue the funding for community support to help vulnerable citizens apply to the scheme. Over the past 10 months this funding has helped Crisis and other partner organisations help more than 1,500 people experiencing homelessness apply to the scheme in London alone. However, this funding is due to end on 31 March, leaving many vulnerable people without vital support to make their application.
  • Introduce a more flexible approach to assessing evidence for people who have experienced homelessness that reflects the challenges that people in this situation are likely to have in providing a complete set of evidence to show they have lived in the UK for 5 years.
  • Make sure proper protections are in place for vulnerable people who have not applied by the June 2021 deadline. Without this EU citizens who have made their home in the UK risk losing their right to live and work here overnight, leaving them facing homelessness, destitution and potentially deportation.

The EU Settlement Scheme offers hope and a route to help people get the support they need to end their homelessness for good. These changes will help ensure that vulnerable people aren’t shut out of this opportunity because they don’t have access to the technology and the documentation needed to apply.

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