“The application itself is very easy for most people,” she said. “It’s mainly those who are traditionally considered to be vulnerable that we are worried about: people experiencing homelessness, mental health problems, or victims of domestic abuse or serious exploitation.”
There are also those who may not speak or read enough English to fill out the application or seek help, as well as older people who may have lived in the UK for decades and assumed their immigration status was secure.
The all-digital nature of the application also excludes those without the access or the skills to apply via device.
Campaign group The 3million, named after the estimated number of EU citizens in the UK, has been urging the UK government to offer citizens physical proof of their right to remain in the UK since 2018.
A bid to make the change as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill failed despite earning peers’ backing in the House of Lords.
Now The 3million are still urging the Home Office to support a part-digital, part-physical approach through their Proof Equality campaign.
Maike Bohn, The 3million co-founder, told The Big Issue that the recent development of vaccine passports shows a secure QR code system would allow EU citizens to get physical proof of their settled status in an affordable manner.
“The government has always said, “Oh, it’s cost.” I don’t buy that at all. We’ve come up with this proposal on how to do it for free, which is like the vaccination passports,” said Bohn.
“It’s the same technology they use with QR codes so to cite costs is all excuses. I think they simply just don’t want to do anything and they want to have that digital control over immigration.
“People are really, really scared of what’s going to happen. It’s a big experiment. And I think it could go horribly wrong for many people.”
Successful applicants may not be able to access physical proof but the Home Office have said people who will face a wait for their application to be settled will be issued a “certificate of application” be issued to prove their right to work and rent, according to The Guardian.
Government data estimates the number of EU citizens living in the UK at 3.7 million, but more than 5 million people have already applied for pre-settled or settled status according to the Home Office. The exact number of EU citizens living in the UK is not known.
“It’s only days away from the deadline and we’re really concerned there are a really significant number of EU citizens who are at risk of being unable to apply on time and falling out of status and rights overnight,” said Caitlin Boswell, a project officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare for Immigrants (JCWI).
A report published by The Times on Monday showed 130,000 EU citizens living in the UK risk losing access to healthcare and other benefits because they have not yet applied. A separate report in May by the Home Office showed 33 per cent of children in care or care leavers had not yet made an application under the scheme.
These figures could represent just a fraction of the number of people who could face unlawful status from 1st July. “It could be 10 people, it could be a million,” Smith agreed. “No one really knows because they haven’t made an application.”
Boswell described the recent findings as highly concerning. “They shine a light on the fact that many more people are also at risk. Those people will automatically lose their leave to remain and become vulnerable to the hostile environment, including detention and removal.”
Government assurances aside, Boswell fears some of these people will inevitably fall through the cracks and lose their benefits as well as their jobs and homes. “They’ve already told us people won’t be eligible for homelessness assistance, social housing or free NHS care if they don’t apply on time.”
London homelessness charity Glass Door is standing ready to process late applications. Agnieszka Nepelska, an EU settlement scheme caseworker at Glass Door, has been part of a small team that has advised more than 400 people and helped 294 achieve settled and pre-settled status.
But Nepelska said there is uncertainty over how long the charity will be able to help EU citizens who have been unaware or have left applying too late.
“People feel worried – we still see people that haven’t applied and we anticipate that we’ll see people that haven’t applied that will be helping with late applications,” she said.
“Obviously, applications will be getting more and more complex as we get further from the deadline. We don’t know how long we are allowed to do it for, we don’t know if this will end in three months, in a year or 20 years.”
From July 1, landlords will face fines of up to £3,000 for renting to people without status and will be required to perform follow-up checks on tenants with pre-settled status. Employers will also face fines of up to £15,000 for breaking the law.
Although the government has said landlords will not be required to evict a tenant who has missed the 20th June deadline, the campaign group the3million has already reported seeing threats of eviction and withdrawal of support while homelessness charities have warned EU nationals could be left homeless as a result of the scheme.
Even those who do apply but whose applications have not been processed face being in a “Windrush-style limbo” without documented legal rights to remain in the UK.
“It’s just another car crash on the horizon where people are going to be in a position where they could be unlawfully evicted or lose their job, especially if they are in precarious employment or interacting with an unscrupulous landlord,” Smith concluded.
“As of July 1 there’s going to be a crisis for certain. We just don’t know how big it will be.”