THOUSANDS of vulnerable European children in care face being left with no legal status in the UK, as local authorities are failing to apply on their behalf for the right to remain.
The Children’s Society said that thousands of children in the care system in the UK were at risk, as the EU Settlement Scheme, which grants settlement rights, finishes at the end of June. Before Brexit, EU nationals could visit or live in the UK, but now all EU nationals in the UK on 31 December 2020, including children, have to apply for settled status to remain.
Failing to apply under the scheme means that a child becomes undocumented, and loses the rights to work and get a driving licence or bank account, and access to benefits or student finance for university.
Local authorities are responsible for applying to the scheme on behalf of children and young people in care, and for supporting care-leavers under 25 to do so.
But, through submitting Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to local authorities, the charity found that, although there were at least 3690 eligible children and young people in the 175 local authorities that responded, only 1426 applications had so far been submitted: 39 per cent. Just 700 of those had been made in the past 12 months, leaving local authorities with more than 2000 applications to make in the next three months, before the deadline passes.
The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Mark Russell, said that it was clear from their research that many local authorities did not know how many children were eligible for the scheme, and that there might be many more children who should apply.
“We are very concerned, not only that so many children are yet to have applications made for them, but that no one seems to know exactly how many children could be affected,” he said. “No child should ever have to face the uncertainty and limbo that comes with being undocumented, but, it seems, thousands of EU children, who are supposed to be in the care of their local authority, could very soon face this cliff edge. This is simply unacceptable.
“These are children who have already faced huge adversity in their lives — being taken into care is often very traumatic. Yet years’ more trauma and distress could be just around the corner if they become undocumented. That is why it’s vital councils and the Home Office work hard to identify every child and care-leaver that needs to go through this process, and ensure social workers and all those involved have the knowledge and understanding to ensure these applications are made in time.”
The Children’s Society has asked the Government to make a commitment to accepting out-of-time applications for the scheme, to ensure that children are not left in limbo, and to securing their status in the interim.
The Home Office conducted its own survey last November, when it found that more than 50 per cent of eligible children still needed to apply for settlement.
The Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster, said that the Government was “determined to ensure all eligible children and care-leavers secure their status”, and it was working closely with charities and local authorities.
“Rightly, our focus is on encouraging applications before the 30 June deadline, but we will soon be publishing guidance on reasonable grounds for late applications, which will include looked-after children and care-leavers where the local authority or parent or guardian failed to apply for them,” he said.
The Children’s Society made FOI requests to 210 local authorities. Fourteen did not respond, and a further 21 were unable to provide data.
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