EU citizens on benefits could lose their universal credit in three weeks time unless they evidence their right to be in the UK, charity workers have warned.
The Work Rights Centre (WRC) says it has been told by staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that EU and European Economic Area nationals must upload a special Home Office code to prove they have the right to reside in the UK before the end of the month.
If they do not update the online DWP profile with this “share code” they could fall off the system, says WRC. Other charities have expressed similar fears.
WRC has raised concerns that many on benefits including children’s allowance could simply lose out because they did not know they had to update their profile or “journey” on the DWP universal credit website.
“Frankly, this is mass disentitlement waiting to happen,” the charity’s director, Olivia Vicol, said. “Many charities, including ours, warned that a digital-only immigration status wouldn’t remove the pressure of having to prove your rights.”
She says she was informed of the cut-off date by customer service agents who appeared to be “reading from a script” when she sought clarification over a letter that went to claimants from the Home Office advising them they needed to apply for the EU settlement scheme after Brexit.
The deadline will come as shock to many who thought the fact the Home Office is insisting on a digital share code to evidence their rights meant the DWP would automatically know who was entitled to remain in the country or not.
Vicol said the DWP demand will also be a concern for many in the 450,000-strong Home Office backlog of applications still being processed for the settlement scheme. “I can’t even begin to explain how anxious this will make those in the Home Office backlog, who – through no fault of their own – cannot generate the proof the DWP is demanding,” she said.
The letter failed to account for EU citizens who may have had pending applications to the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) and should therefore have had their rights protected until an outcome was reached.
The Home Office minister Kevin Foster has repeatedly said the rights of EU citizens who are still in the backlog would be guaranteed by the issue of a certificate of application from his department.
Vicol said her charity was also concerned about vulnerable EU citizens who were not computer literate who might have had their applications submitted by charities or other representatives who might not have been aware they needed to evidence their rights to the DWP. They also fear that those who have moved address or changed their telephone number may not get notification from the DWP of the need to update their online benefits profile.
Almost half of those seeking the assistance of the charity reported they did not know how to get a “share code” from the Home Office when asked to do so by their employer.
“Their current approach puts local authorities and benefits advisers across the third sector in a very awkward position, to fixate on proving status when many people have already done it and others simply can’t,” she said.
A government spokesperson said:“We continue to use every possible channel, including letters, telephone calls, texts, and the direct contact our frontline staff have with their customers, to encourage those who are eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme.”