1,000s of children at risk when EU Settlement closes

Coram Children’s Legal Centre has warned that thousands of children are at risk of being left without status after Brexit.

With one year to go to the close of the EU Settlement Scheme, a new report, Children left out? Securing children’s rights to stay in the UK beyond Brexit, stresses that the Home Office and local authorities need a comprehensive plan to ensure children are not left in limbo from 1 July 2021.

With more than 900,000 eligible EEA citizen children thought to have been living in the UK in 2017, only 412,820 children had been granted status under settlement scheme by 31 March 2020. Of these, there are an estimated 9,000 children and young people in the care system who were eligible, but UK local authorities have secured status for fewer than 500 according to one estimate.

The report says that, while the government is focusing on the high numbers of applications to the settlement scheme overall, there is a real risk that it is not recognising the particular gap when it comes to children’s applications. If children do not get status, on 1 July next year they will become undocumented, living in the UK unlawfully and subject to hostile environment policies which restrict access to homes, healthcare, education, work, benefits, bank accounts and driving licences.

The report recommends: scrapping the prohibitively expensive £1,012 citizenship fee currently charged to children; resource a comprehensive plan to find and support every single child and young person as a matter of urgency; extend the deadline to the settlement scheme; and, if they do not apply in time, children and young people eligible under the EU settlement scheme must not be brought under existing long and expensive routes in the immigration system that are currently failing other children and young people, once the deadline has expired.

Marianne Lagrue, policy manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said: “Beneath the headline number of applications made so far to the EU settlement scheme, we are concerned that there might be a gap when it comes to children’s applications. Based on our work helping hundreds of children, young people and families to apply, we know that many struggle with different aspects of the scheme, and there is confusion about which children are, or could become, British citizens.

“We are particularly concerned that there are thousands of children and young people in the care of the state who still need to apply. This government must act now to resolve the immigration status of the children in its own care. If they cannot, this has worrying implications for whether the system can reach every eligible child and young person with just one year to go. The government needs a comprehensive plan and should extend the deadline.”

Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Today’s report highlights where children, particularly those in care, are at risk of falling through the gaps, and one child left in legal limbo is simply one too many. Through our work at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, we will continue to champion the rights of all children throughout the transition period and beyond. It has never been more important that every child who grew up here is able to face their future with safety and security.”