Frightened EU citizens in their eighties who have lived in the UK for decades are calling a charity helpline every day because they are worried about the possibility of being deported.
Settled, which is partly funded by the Welsh Government, says it is becoming increasingly concerned about the number of elderly people that have still not applied for the EU Settlement Scheme, less than three months before the June 30 deadline.
Every EU national in the UK must apply for Settled or Pre-Settled Status before then or will lose their rights to live and work here.
As the deadline looms, the charity says it is finding numerous elderly people unable or unaware that they need to apply
Age UK estimates that around 131,000 EU nationals live in the UK, while the latest UK Government data for the EU Settlement Scheme show that 101,890 applications – not applicants – were from those aged 65 and over.
While figures of EU citizens living in the UK were never recorded, the official statistics show that just 2% of overall applications for the digital-only scheme have come from over-65s.
Due to the lockdown, Settled has been unable to hold outreach visits to care homes and communication has been difficult as carers have been concentrating on keeping their clients safe during the pandemic.
Earlier this week a European embassy began contacting elderly residents it has registered as living in the UK.
They and their families have since been approaching Settled’s language-based helplines in high numbers.
One example of a recent call was the daughter of a 91 year-old man who is bed bound and can’t get an appointment to renew his passport.
She has asked for a paper application as the EU Settlement Scheme is a digital-only process, but claims she had to plead for it.
Her father is in distress after spending most of his life in the UK. He feels he has been let down by everyone, as he has been living in the UK since 1957.
Settled chief executive Kate Smart said: “We are finding that many of the elderly people we are helping had assumed they didn’t need to apply because of long term residency in the UK.
“On top of that, we have not been able to reach out to those in care during the pandemic. We are now approaching care homes, but the devastation left in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic means there is still much to do.
“This is an incredibly worrying situation and could be a tragedy in the making. Thousands of elderly, long-term residents of the UK, many of them in care, could find themselves illegal in the country they have called home for decades.”
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Last week Settled called on the UK Government to reassure EU nationals that delays in renewing identity documents wouldn’t cause people to miss the deadline. This issue is particularly prominent among the elderly who Settled is speaking with.
UK Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster responded: “European citizens are our friends, family and neighbours.
“We are pleased we’ve already surpassed 5.1 million applications to the hugely successful EU Settlement Scheme and urge people who are eligible to apply now to secure the status they deserve in UK law.
“We’re aware communicating with an older audience requires a carefully tailored approach and content, which is why the Home Office has made available up to £22m in funding for a network of 72 organisations across the UK to help vulnerable and harder to reach groups apply to the scheme, including elderly people.
“We have a dedicated team of more than 1,500 people working on the scheme, with support available seven days a week by telephone and by email.
“There is also assisted digital support for those who do not feel confident in using a computer or mobile device or do not have internet access.”