EXCL Cross-party pressure on Sajid Javid to end call charges for EU citizens' post-Brexit rights hotline
MPs from across the political divide have piled pressure on Sajid Javid to remove call charges from a hotline for EU citizens who want to stay in the UK after Brexit, PoliticsHome can reveal.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Labour MPs and MEPs urged him to make the helpline for Settled Status applicants free to “ensure EU nationals are not at risk of being left in limbo”.
And Tory MP Alberto Costa said he would ask the Cabinet minister to scrap the charges.
PoliticsHome revealed earlier this week that more than 1 million EU citizens are set to be hit by the call charges when they seek help from the Settlement Resolution Centre
The Government has already been forced to end a £65 fee for the scheme, which will allow EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years or more retain the same rights after Brexit.
Calls to the Home Office helpline are made to an 0300 number, which costs up to 10p a minute from landlines and between 3p to 40p a minute from mobiles.
During the second rollout phase of the Settled Status application scheme, more than a third of the 30,000 applicants called the number for help.
It means some 1.3 million EU nationals could be expected to call the hotline when the scheme is made available after 30 March for the full 3.7 million who are living in the UK.
In the letter to Mr Javid, which was also sent to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, Labour MEP Julie Ward said: “I am asking that the Settled Status Scheme Hotline immediately be made a freephone number for all callers.
“EU citizens had no vote in the 2016 referendum and they are now being charged to call a government helpline to ascertain if they are able to reside in the United Kingdom post Brexit.”
She added: “This is an issue of fairness and I implore that you make the hotline free to ensure that EU nationals are not at risk of being left in limbo due to a technicality or insufficient funds.
“This is a matter of urgency and I would request that you reply and rectify the issue with the immediacy that this issue deserves, given the timeframe of the application process.”
The letter was signed by eight MEPs - including Richard Corbett, the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. It was also signed by MPs Seema Malhotra, Stephen Doughty and Lloyd Russel-Moyle.
Meanwhile, Mr Costa told PoliticsHome: “It has only recently been brought to my attention that there may be excessive charges for people to call a necessary helpline
“I will raise it immediately with the Home Secretary and request that these charges are removed.”
The Lib Dems have also backed calls to make the hotline free, as has the pro-EU People’s Vote campaign and the 3 Million group, which represents the millions of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit.
A Home Office spokesperson said this week: "The EU Settlement Scheme makes it easy for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need.
"The online process is designed to be as straightforward as possible but anyone can call the 03 number for help. These low cost numbers are often part of inclusive minutes in mobile phone packages.
"There is also £9m of funding available to voluntary and community sector organisations to help us reach more vulnerable or at-risk EU citizens and their family members directly so no one gets left behind."