‘Grave concerns over the validity of EU status digital system’ after Home Office benefits error

Written by Adam Payne and Sam Trendall on 30 January 2023 in News

Issue with Home Office database means tens of thousands could have erroneously received payments

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0 

The government could have wrongly issued benefits payments to tens of thousands of European Union citizens as a result of a Home Office data error. 

The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), a body created as part of the Brexit withdrawal deal to protect the rights of citizens agreed, has warned the department that 140,000 could have been impacted by the issue – which it said raises serious concerns about the digital systems used to administer the EU Settled Status (EUSS) programme.

EU citizens who living in the UK prior to Brexit had access to benefits – which they retained if settled, or pre-settled status was granted. About 5.8 million applicants were ultimately granted the right to remain in the UK before applications closed in June 2021.

While the Home Office wrote to individuals who had been refused EU Settled Status, it did not immediately update its eVisas database, meaning people who had been refused continued to be categorised internally as their applications being "pending".

The department says the decision to leave people's status as "pending" was because it was required by the Brexit withdrawal agreement to protect the rights of people who were refused settled status but immediately appealed.

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However, the decision meant that thousands of people who did not immediately appeal the government's decision continued to receive benefits and access to public funds that they were not entitled to. The Home Office updated "refused" statuses on the eVisa database on 18 January.

The department has communicated the news to impacted departments, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, and the Department for Health & Social Care, according to PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome.

In a letter to the department seen by PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, the IMA urged the Home Office to explain how "erroneous statuses" were able to stay in the department's system for months and expressed concern about whether the EU Settlement Scheme – in particular its digital systems – is fit for purpose.

No EU citizens have been issued with physical documents evidencing their status – which can only be demonstrated digitally. The programme is intended as the first major step towards the Home Office’s ultimate objective of eliminating all physical immigration documents. Then-immigration minister Kevin Foster claimed last year that government’s ambition is to digitise all such documentation by the end of 2024.

The IMA letter said: “I am writing to you to express our concern and seek clarity on how this status error occurred, how it was identified, what steps have already been taken to remedy the status error and what further steps will be taken. The status error raises grave concerns regarding both the validity and integrity of the EUSS digital system. The accuracy of the digital document provided to citizens is fundamental if a digital system is to operate successfully."

A Home Office spokesperson told PoliticsHome: "The online digital status for some EU Settlement Scheme applicants who were refused status has been updated in line with the decision taken on their application, which had already been communicated to the individuals concerned. We are working across government and with the EU and member states to understand any further implications and to ensure the situation is managed quickly and pragmatically.”

The department would not confirm how many people have been impacted or how much money is estimated to have been wrongly paid out. A government source said it is expected that a "small proportion" of the 141,000 had have received incorrect payments.


About the author

Adam Payne is political editor at PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @adampayne26.


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