System aims to speed up bureaucratic process – but campaign group warns of shortcomings
A digital app will replace a daunting 85-page form when millions of EU citizens are required to register to stay in the UK after Brexit, under Home Office plans.
However, the timetable for the new system has been thrown into doubt after Theresa May insisted on different rules for people who arrive during a two-year transition period.
Ministers have been fiercely criticised for the huge bureaucracy involved in applying for permanent residence, involving a mountain of documents listing every exit and entry from the UK and years of tax records.
A year ago - after being deluged with bids from worried EU nationals - the Home Office advised them not to put in applications until a new process was in place.
Now the speedlined new system will, say people who have seen it, allow an applicant to scan their passport and national insurance number into an online system or phone app.
Electronic information in the passport chip and the NI number would then be cross-checked with tax and pension data from HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to confirm how long someone has been in the country.
Those who have been in the UK for five years or more and answer basic questions on nationality and work status will be automatically emailed a “permanent settled status” registration number
Those who have been in the UK for fewer than five years will be issued a temporary special status number, until they reach those five years.
However, the Prime Minister clashed with Brussels when she argued there could be no automatic right to remain for EU citizens coming to the UK after Brexit day, on 29 March 2019.
A Home Office insider told The Guardian that – faced with the possible need for two different systems – trials of the app due in January had been postponed.
Even without the delay, the campaign group the3million, which represents EU citizens already settled in the UK, said the app could “only be part of the system”. It fears problems for older people who do not have computers and called for a face-to- face solution for those who needed it.
Rejection and mistakes
“What will happen if the app rejects you, what will happen if you don’t have a computer, if you are disabled? What will happen if the Home Office makes a mistake? All of this will be an issue. It will be only work for the digital generation,” said Nicolas Hatton, the co-founder of the3million.
He predicted that some people would refuse to register out of principle or fear, after numerous Home Office blunders over residency rights in the past.
A Home Office spokesman said it would be providing assistance for those would could not make an online application and setting up a new “review mechanism” to quickly resolve any errors.
Image from Victorgrigas, Creative Commons 3.0 through Wikimedia