Community spirit

Is your community ready for Brexit?

With Brexit fast approaching and new rules on freedom of movement coming into force, Ellie and Georgie from the partnerships team take a look at how communities are preparing residents for the European Settlement Scheme deadline 

As the UK leaves the European Union, all EU, EEA or Swiss citizens must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to continue living in the UK legally beyond 30 June 2021.

Over 4 million people have already applied to the EUSS, and for many people, the process has been relatively simple and straightforward. Successful applicants will be given ‘settled status’ if they can prove they have lived in the UK continuously for at least five years. They will be given ‘pre-settled status’ if they have lived here for less than five years and will still have to apply for settled status after having lived in the UK for five consecutive years. A full outline of the deadline and process can be found on the Government’s website.

Those who haven’t completed their EUSS application by 30 June 2021 risk loosing their right to remain: unable to legally work, access public benefits or essential public services.”

All EU, EEA and Swiss citizens must apply, no matter how long they have lived in the UK, to retain a right to legally remain in the UK. For communities up and down the country, ensuring all who need to apply complete their application on time is an incredibly important issue and with so many community groups offering a range of support and services to residents, the EUSS is something that many Big Local areas will want to be aware of.

Wormley and Turnford Big Local’s experience

In Hertfordshire, Wormley and Turnford Big Local (WTBL) have been working with their local Citizens Advice Bureau to raise awareness of EUSS for the many residents who will need to apply. Michal Siewniak, WTBL’s community development manager, shared some of the barriers they have come across that prevent EU nationals from easily applying.

Access to information

Michal shared that, in some cases, language barriers and social isolation mean there is a lack of awareness of EUSS and this is especially so for those who have lived in the UK for most of their lives, or their children.

Those who are aware of the scheme may face other barriers to applying:

  • Awareness of the importance of the scheme
  • Access to digital devices
  • Knowing, if necessary, where to seek help to complete the application

Lack of personal support

Wormley and Turnford have been planning resources and events for EU citizens in their community. Michal explained that, unsurprisingly, the pandemic has disrupted a lot of face-to-face support and attempts to raise awareness, although they might start again in the New Year, depending on the need.

Some of the most vulnerable members of our communities: the digitally excluded, the elderly, the disabled and those with already limited access to support networks are those who are most likely to be impacted by a lack of face-to-face support, to have not yet applied, or struggle with problematic applications. Michal has experience working with Europeans who found themselves without a fixed address and who often struggle to get the documents required to prove residency.

How can community groups help?

There are clearly challenges facing people applying for EUSS, but what support is out there? And what can communities do to help? In order to find out, we spoke to Marek Janiel, the Managing Director of MJ Languages, a Community Interest Company providing free EUSS support on the behalf of Big Local LTO, Nova Wakefield. Nova were one of 70+ organisations the Home Office funded to offer support and advice on EUSS.

Marek emphasised the important role communities can play in helping EU citizens because community networks can be effective at engaging and raising awareness locally, and are best at knowing how to reach out to more vulnerable and at-risk individuals and signpost them to sources of support.

There are clearly challenges facing people applying to the EU Settlement Scheme, but support is out there.”

Michal and Marek both stressed the importance of being informed about the support you can legally give; groups not registered with the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) should not interpret information provided by the government or provide one-to-one immigration advice, but they can do other things to provide valuable support.

Raise awareness and provide accurate information

You can start to raise awareness about the issue through sharing information through:

  • Posting on social media and your website
  • Newsletters
  • Existing networks and institutions such as schools, health care or housing providers, international food shops and foodbanks

Marek emphasised that it is important to raise awareness not only of the need to apply, but of the different deadlines which can often be confusing, and of the importance of applying as soon as possible in order to have time to sort out the required documents and evidence).

The government has a range of resources and information that have been designed for community groups to provide clear and accurate information. The applicant guidance, poster, factsheet and video have been translated into 25 European languages, although the actual application is in English.

Signpost EU citizens to Home Office funded and OISC accredited organisations

The Government has provided a list of regional and national Home Office funded organisations providing a range of free advice and support. We have put together an extended list sorted by region here.

It is important to make your community aware of the support that is already out there and provide contact details of the relevant organisations locally. These groups have the required training, resources and time to properly support people through the process.

If individuals need access to legal advice on their immigration status, and the documents they need to provide you should signpost them to an OISC accredited organisation.

Provide language and translation support

Marek highlighted that many EU nationals may be apprehensive of seeking support because of language barriers. You could provide translated materials, or perhaps link up with those in your community who could volunteer their language skills to ensure that all members of your community can navigate the application. Many of the Home Office funded services also provide translation resources and support.

Provide access to digital equipment and support

Some people may not be able to apply because they don’t have access to a digital device or the internet. Marek pointed out that the application often requires scanning or taking high quality pictures of documents, which is increasingly difficult for people with the closure of many public spaces such as libraries that provide these services.

Providing access to the internet and a computer, a tablet, a scanner or even just a smartphone for the purpose of completing their application may help people who are digitally excluded.

Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to build bridges with members of our community who might be anxious about the changes.”

After completing the application, Marek explained that many people will need more than just the one-time support, for example assistance to check the outcome of their status (which will be digital), as it is common to be asked for additional evidence, once again, online.

Help people locate documents

Unaccredited groups and individuals may help others find the required documents needed to apply, this includes giving support to apply for valid identity documents from their embassy.

EUSS as an opportunity

In the run up to the referendum there were reports of a rise in hate crime towards people from European backgrounds and Michal and others are concerned about a similar trend as Brexit gets underway.  Michal believes these fears may be preventing some from getting fully involved in community organisations and events and is passionate that such opportunities remain open to European citizens.

Perhaps we may be able to take this transition as an opportunity to build bridges and new relationships with parts of our communities who may be anxious about such changes and are looking for support and reassurance.

Where to find help?

  • For more help on organisations who can advise on the EUSS, see our organisation list here – EUSS Support Organisations.
  • Local trust have also produced information on how your funding can/ can’t be used in relation to immigration work, read about this here – Big Local Funding and EUSS.

If you would like to find out more about community responses to Brexit, either through a conversation with other Big Local areas or specialists on this topic, please email Georgie Burr.