EUSS digital-only status remains an issue for 2 in 5 EU citizens

By Dora-Olivia Vicol - 05 May 2022

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was introduced in 2019 to protect the rights of EU, EEA, Swiss citizens and their eligible family members (henceforth EU+ citizens) who wanted to continue living in the UK after Brexit. Officially closed on the 30th of June 2021, with some late applications still accepted, the UK Government heralded it as a success, citing the more than 6 million applications submitted and the pioneering digital system of applying and proving status.

In this blog post we show that, in the complex world of practice, the EUSS still suffers from significant limitations. Drawing upon client data collected by our frontline advisers and national literacy statistics, we show that digital literacy continues to pose a significant challenge to a significant proportion of EU+ citizens.

From 12 March 2021 to 22 March 2022 we supported 680 EUSS enquiries. This is a significant increase on the years before, likely owing to the effect of the 30 June 2021 deadline.

As many as 42% of the EU+ citizens who contacted the Work Rights Centre during that time struggled to issue a share code. This is what we learnt after we analysed our client data. Every time a new beneficiary speaks to one of our advisers, with their consent we walk them through a set of questions which help us build a picture of their needs. Two of the questions, reproduced below, refer to their EUSS awareness. From a total of 391 beneficiaries who answered our question about share codes, a staggering 163 (42%) reported being unable to issue one on their own. From the 384 who also answered the question about the Home Office, as many as 137 (36%) did not know that the Home Office needed updating every time their contact or ID details changed.

7% of the EU+ citizens who contacted us needed help with their EUSS login details. Our beneficiaries' struggles with issuing a share code were reflected in the issues they asked our team to support with. Whenever we provide advice or conduct casework, our frontline team members keep a log of the issues they were required to support. At first, we only recorded EUSS in general terms (and we continued to use this category for enquiries that fell outside our predefined categories). Gradually however, we refined our issues list to capture EUSS enquiries in more detail. As the table below indicates, login issues affected 52 EU+ citizens, or 7% of the 680 who contacted us last year. NB: The figure is likely an underestimate, given that we only started recording login as a specific issue on 12 May 2021 (almost two months after the reporting period started). 

The digital literacy issues encountered by EU+ citizens are not an exception. This year, we examined the issue of digital literacy more broadly, in a report we prepared for Brent council. Drawing on national statistics from the ONS (see p5-p6 of the report), we learnt that even today:

  • internet connectivity remains incomplete. In 2020, a significant minority of 4% of British households lacked basic internet access.
  • in 2018 there were still 5.3million people in the UK who never used the internet, or did so longer than 3 months ago.
  • digital illiteracy affected millions of UK adults in 2018, including 8% who had zero digital skills, and a further 12% who had only limited online abilities.
  • the range of internet services they can access is limited.  While a whole 96% of adults had internet access, only 76% used internet banking, and 87% shopped online.

A significant limitation of the digitisation of government services is that digital exclusion disproportionately affects disadvantaged users, reinforcing existing inequalities of income, age, gender and ethnicity, as well as physical ability and mental health.

Internet use statistics from 2020 indicate that while 99% of employed adults in the UK accessed the internet in the past three months, the figure was 90% for those who were economically inactive, and only 71% for the retired.

Disparities also apply between ethnic groups, and across gender and ability. The proportion of recent internet users who were disabled was only 81.4%, compared to 96% who did not report a disability.

To avoid deepening the digital divide, and allowing issues of internet connectivity and IT literacy to generate harmful social exclusion, we think the Home Office needs to do more to support the most vulnerable. In the case of immigration status, while a share code works for some people, nothing can replace the simplicity of physical proof. For the disabled, the modestly educated, the poor, many of whom come from racially disadvantaged groups, a physical proof of status is the only viable option. Without it, they are forced to depend upon the help of friends, advisers, or for-profit consultants, who make a business of digital exclusion.

To learn more, read our reports Supporting Vulnerable Residents to Access Digital Government Services, and Lives on Hold, which documents EU citizens' issues in more depth. To support our work, please consider making a donation.

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