Benefits Wrongly Paid To Thousands Of EU Citizens Due To Home Office Error
Exclusive: The government has wrongly made benefits payments to potentially tens of thousands of European Union citizens due to a Home Office data error.
The government plans to start a process of recovering money that has been given to EU citizens despite them not being entitled to it.
The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), a body set up following the UK's exit from the EU to protect the rights of citizens agreed as part of the Brexit withdrawal deal, has warned the Home Office that there are over 140,000 people who could be impacted.
EU citizens who were lawfully living in the UK prior to Brexit had access to benefits. After the UK's departure, EU citizens who wanted to continue living in the UK, and receive benefits and as well as other rights, were asked by the government to apply through the EU Settled Status scheme.
Between June 2021 and April 2022, 141,000 people who applied for EU Settled Status were refused, according to government figures. This scheme allows EU citizens in the UK to apply for the right to stay in the country for as long as they like, as well as the opportunity to apply for citizenship.
While the Home Office wrote to individuals who had been refused EU Settled Status, it did not immediately update its eVisas database, meaning people who had been refused continued to be categorised internally as their applications being "pending".
The department, led by Suella Braverman, says the decision to leave people's status as "pending" was because it was required by the Brexit withdrawal agreement to protect the rights of people who were refused settled status but immediately appealed.
However, the decision meant that thousands of people who did not immediately appeal the government's decision continued to receive benefits and access to public funds that they were not entitled to. The Home Office updated "refused" statuses on the eVisa database on 18 January.
The department has communicated the news to impacted departments, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities and the Department for Health & Social Care, PoliticsHome understands.
A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome: "Millions have successfully applied to the EU Settlement Scheme and are using their status to prove their rights.
“Where someone has been refused status, it's right that the Government takes action to correct their eVisa to reflect this status, to ensure that they only receive public funds and benefits that they are entitled to.”
The Home Office would not confirm how many people have been impacted or how much money is estimated to have been wrongly paid out. A government source said it is expected that a "small proportion" of the 141,000 had have received incorrect payments.
In a letter to the department seen by PoliticsHome, the IMA urged the Home Office to explain how "erroneous statuses" were able to stay in the department's system for months and expressed concern that the EU Settlement Scheme was not fit for purpose.
"I am writing to you to express our concern and seek clarity on how this status error occurred, how it was identified, what steps have already been taken to remedy the status error and what further steps will be taken," the letter reads.
"The status error raises grave concerns regarding both the validity and integrity of the EUSS digital system. The accuracy of the digital document provided to citizens is fundamental if a digital system is to operate successfully."
Following publication, the Home Office issued an additional statement to PoliticsHome regarding the issue of EU citizens having received benefits.
In the new statement, a Home Office spokesperson said: "The online digital status for some EU Settlement Scheme applicants who were refused status has been updated in line with the decision taken on their application, which had already been communicated to the individuals concerned.
“We are working across government and with the EU and member states to understand any further implications and to ensure the situation is managed quickly and pragmatically.”
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