Six very frequently asked questions about the EU Settlement Scheme

As we approach 30 June 2021, the deadline to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme, people are increasingly and understandably worried about their applications. In this post, we try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the scheme, for those who haven’t applied yet.

1. What if… I don’t have an identity document?

Generally speaking, the Home Office will expect all applicants, including children, to submit a valid identity document. “Valid” means not expired.

For EU citizens — including, for the purposes of this article, citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland — the identity document can be a passport or national identity card. For non-EU citizens applying on the basis of a relationship with an EU national, it can be a passport, a biometric residence permit or a biometric residence card.

Some applicants do not have an identity document at the moment and may be struggling to obtain one because their embassies are closed due to Covid-19. Don’t wait until you are able to obtain a document if this brings you past the deadline of 30 June 2021. Instead, applicants should be aware of these two points:

(a) Your ID might still be valid despite the expiry date

Some countries have extended the validity period of their identity documents in response to COVID-19. Home Office guidance lists which countries have done this, for which type of identity documents, and the new expiry date of those documents.

Applicants who rely on ID with extended validity will not be able to use the app. Instead, they will need to complete the application form online and select the option of sending their ID to the Home Office by post.

(b) You can explain why you cannot obtain a passport

Applicants who simply cannot obtain an identity document can still submit an application. It won’t be as easy as applications with ID, because you will need to call the EU Settlement Resolution Centre and ask to be sent an application form by post. The EU Settlement Resolution Centre can be reluctant to send a form when they are not convinced that it’s impossible to get ID, but applicants who are genuinely in this situation should insist.

Applicants will also need to explain why they cannot submit ID when sending back the form. It is only in some circumstances that the Home Office will accept applications without ID, including when the applicant cannot produce the identity document “due to circumstances beyond their control or due to compelling practical or compassionate reasons”. Applicants should be prepared to explain in detail why they are unable to produce an identity document. If possible, they should include evidence of the efforts they made to get one.

Lastly, applicants should try to submit alternative evidence of identity. For example, if they do not have a valid identity document but do have an expired one, the expired document can be sent.

Applicants submitting applications by post without an identity document should be prepared to wait longer for a decision. All in all, this solution is not ideal. But given how difficult EU citizen are finding it at present to have their documents renewed, and the fast approaching deadline, any applicant who is struggling to get a renewed document should call the EU Settlement Resolution Centre and ask for a paper application form.

2. What if… I don’t have evidence of residence?

All applicants must show how they are eligible under the EU Settlement Scheme. Somewhat simplifying:

  • Applicants for settled status must show that they have lived in the UK for five continuous years, starting before 31 December 2020, and that, since the end of the five-year period, they have never been out of the UK for more than five years.
  • Applicants for pre-settled status must show that they moved to the UK before 31 December 2020 and that, since their last entry to the UK before 31 December 2020, they have not been absent for more than six months (or for more than twelve months if the absence was for an “important reason”; more on this below).

Many applicants will not need to submit their own evidence of residence. This is because the Home Office will use their National Insurance number to run automated checks. For example, HMRC should be able to confirm the residence of applicants who are employed and pay National Insurance contributions. But this system doesn’t work for everyone, for all sorts of reasons.

Whenever the Home Office automated checks can’t verify residence in the UK, applicants can submit their own evidence of residence. The Home Office website lists examples of preferred evidenc. Ideally they want it to be “official” documents, such as utility bills, bank statements, council tax bills and P60s. But, again, not everyone can submit that type of evidence. That is not the end of the road, and different types of evidence can be submitted depending on each case.

It is impossible to give examples for all possible scenarios, but the main message is that applicants should not be discouraged by the list of evidence on the Home Office website. If that evidence is available, then it is preferable, but other types of documents can be submitted instead.

3. What if… some of my documents are not in English?

By the nature of the EU Settlement Scheme, where applicants are showing that they have lived in the UK, much of the evidence is likely to be in English. But some essential evidence may be in a different language. For example, a non-EU citizen may need to show that they are married to an EU citizen; if their marriage was conducted abroad, the marriage certificate may be in a different language.

In these cases, applicants should submit a certified translation or, if the document is a public document issued in an EU country, they can ask for a Multilingual Standard Form.

There is no exact definition of what a “certified translation” is. Generally speaking it should be a translation completed by a professional translator or translation agency. The translation should be dated, confirm that it is an “accurate translation” of the original document, and contain the details of the translator or translation company. The document does not need to be notarised, as long as the translation is professional.

Not all documents necessarily need to be translated, though. Given how expensive professional translations are, applicants may want to just submit the documents in the original. If the Home Office needs them translated, it should contact the applicant to ask.

4. What if… I was outside the UK for more than six months?

As mentioned above, applicants who want to apply for settled status need to show that they have lived in the UK for five continuous years, starting before 31 December 2020.

Continuity of residence is generally broken by absences of more than six months in any one year. However, not all absences of more than six months break the continuity. In particular, applicants will not have broken the continuity of their residence if:

  • During the five-year qualifying residence, they were outside of the UK for one single period of absence of less than 12 months, and the absence was for an “important reason”. Examples are pregnancy, child birth, serious illness, study, vocational training, an overseas posting or some absences due to COVID-19 (more on this below).
  • They were outside of the UK for any period of time on compulsory military service.
  • They were outside of the UK for any period of time on a posting on Crown Service; or accompanying a partner or child on a posting on Crown Service.
  • They were working in the UK marine area.

Having established what breaks continuous residence, here is how long absences can affect applicants in different scenarios.

Applicants who have lived in the UK for more than five years

It is important to clarify that a settled status applicant does not need to rely on the most recent five-year period. If an applicant has recently broken the continuity of their residence, but had a previous period of five years during which they did not break the continuity of their residence, they can rely on that previous period.

Even applicants who no longer live in the UK can apply for settled status if they lived here for more than five continuous years in the past and, since the end of that five-year period, they have never been absent for more than five consecutive years.

In short, applicants who have had a five-year continuous period of residence in the UK in the past will not be affected by the kind of short absences discussed below. They would only be negatively affected by absences of more than five years.

Applicants who have lived in the UK for less than five years

The situation is different for applicants who have lived in the UK for less than five years. Again simplifying slightly: if they break the continuity of their residence after 31 December 2020, they are highly unlikely to ever be eligible for settled status. If they broke the continuity of their residence before that date, all may not be lost.

5. What if… I was stuck abroad due to COVID-19?

The Home Office has issued guidance confirming that absences due to COVID-19 can be “an important reason” justifying an absence from the UK of more than six months. But not all COVID-19 absences would be eligible for this exception. Firstly, the absence cannot be for longer than 12 months. Secondly, the applicant must have been prevented from travelling due to COVID-19 and will need to submit evidence of that. It seems that it will not be sufficient for an applicant to have simply preferred to stay abroad due to COVID-19 if they physically could travel back.

Applicants will need to make a declaration at the end of the application process confirming that the evidence they relied on is accurate and reflect their actual residence in the UK. That evidence includes automated checks and should not be relied on if it does not reflect their actual residence.

6. What if… I already have a UK residence card?

Many non-EU family members of EU nationals will have applied for documents proving their right to reside in the UK well before Brexit was “a thing”. They would have been granted EEA residence cards or EEA permanent residence cards. Some EU citizens themselves also started getting documents to prove their residence in the UK, particularly in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, and would have been issued with EEA registration certificates or documents confirming permanent residence.

Those documents do not protect their long-term status in the UK. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially for those who have been issued “permanent” documents and thought this would protect them, well, permanently. Similarly, EEA residence cards may show an expiry date well beyond June 2021.

But such applicants still need to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021. Anyone who has not applied by then, even if they already have EEA documents which, on the face of it, appear to be valid, may become overstayers in the UK and will be subject to the hostile immigration environment.

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