Older people facing 'Windrush 2' unless Home Office tweaks Brexit citizen scheme, ministers told
Ministers must step in to make sure elderly European citizens living in the UK do not fall victim to a Windrush-style scandal after Brexit, a major charity has warned.
Age UK said the Home Office must ensure that older migrants are not at risk of losing access to services such as the NHS or of being deported after Britain quits the bloc due to complications with the EU Settlement Scheme.
As it stands, EU nationals have until June 2021 to apply for settled status if the UK leaves with a deal, or December 2020 if the country goes for a no-deal Brexit, in order to be granted the right to remain.
But in a letter to ministers, the charity warns that older citizens are more at risk of failing to complete the application as they struggle with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and may have difficulty in using the online application process.
Analysis from the charity shows that just 16% of older people have made an application to the scheme - compared to 30% of working-age people so far.
And Age UK is warning that with 118,000 EU nationals over 65 expected to apply for the scheme, just 19,210 have done so
Of those, 14,240 having been granted settled status and 2,660 have been granted pre-settled status.
Applicants are meanwhile mostly expected to apply online - but the charity said that could cause problems when a quarter of over-65s (24%) say they have not used the internet at all in the last three months.
That figure that rises sharply further up the age-range.
The group is also concerned that many older people currently do not have a valid passport because they are no longer able to travel.
Age UK director, Caroline Abrahams, said ministers risked repeating the scandal that led to some members of the Windrush generation - who came to the UK from the Caribbean before 1971 - being wrongly threatened with deportation and loss of access to public services.
She said: “A compulsory Settlement Scheme, designed to operate mostly online and with potentially dire consequences for anyone who fails to comply with it, spells big trouble ahead we fear for thousands of older people who have lived for donkey’s years in this country.”
“The Windrush scandal, which let’s remember is not over yet, showed that it is all too easy for older people who have resided in the UK for many years to get badly hurt when they were unable, through no fault of their own, to evidence their right to remain in the UK.”
Ms Abrahams added: “It’s not good enough for governments to create all-age systems that fail to take the needs of our oldest citizens into account.
“And when it comes to the EU Settlement Scheme our concern goes beyond the ability of an older person to navigate the application process to whether they are aware they have to apply at all.
“Older people living with dementia and older people who are not in touch with public services and who keep themselves to themselves are especially at risk we believe, and they should not be penalised as a result.
“We sincerely hope that the Home Office will provide us with the urgent assurances we seek.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “EU citizens are our friends, families and neighbours and we want them to stay.
“There’s plenty of support to help elderly people in applying, including a helpline open 7 days a week, face-to-face support across the UK, paper application forms and even home visits. We’re also providing up to £9 million to charities to help an estimated 200,000 vulnerable people.
“The application process is flexible and a range of alternative documents can be accepted in extenuating circumstances.”