EXCL Anger as EU citizens forced to pay call charges for post-Brexit rights hotline
More than 1 million EU citizens are set to be hit by call charges as they try to work out whether they can stay in the UK after Brexit, PoliticsHome can reveal.
Foreign nationals applying for the so-called Settled Status scheme are being charged up to 40p a minute to use the official Home Office helpline.
Campaigners demanded the charges be scrapped as they claimed some callers were spending 20 minutes on the phone on multiple occasions as they grappled with the system.
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 Settlement Resolution Centre 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.
Labour MP Kate Green, who supports the People’s Vote campaign, said it was “outrageous” that EU citizens who have lived in the UK for years “are still being made to hand over money just to keep their existing rights”.
“These are our colleagues, our neighbours, our friends and in some cases our families,” she told PoliticsHome. “The Government’s behaviour towards them is beneath contempt.”
She added: “It’s no wonder that growing numbers of EU citizens, especially those working in the NHS, are leaving the UK. These hidden call charges must be scrapped immediately.”
A spokesperson for the 3 Million campaign, which represents EU citizens living in Britain, said some applicants had been forced to make several 20-minute calls to the hotline for help with the process.
They mocked the Home Office after former Home Secretary Amber Rudd said applying for Settled Status would be “as easy as setting up an online account at LK Bennett” - a luxury fashion retailer.
“Applying for settled status is clearly not as easy as applying for a store loyalty card,” the spokesperson said.
“Either the Home Office makes the process easier so applicants don't have to call or they should abolish the call charges.”
Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: “This shows that, despite the shocking revelations of the Windrush Scandal, the Home Office’s hostile culture hasn’t changed a bit – and that means we are heading for another scandal when thousands of EU citizens who lose their rights after Brexit."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "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 £9 million 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."