Settled status: NHS, and government systems can cross-check records to reduce burden on digitally excluded, minister claims

Written by Sam Trendall on 4 May 2021 in News
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Government still has no plans to issue physical documents

Credit: PA

NHS and government systems can automatically cross-check records of EU citizens granted settled status, which the immigration minister has claimed reduces the burden on individuals to prove their status – particularly those that lack access to digital devices.

Despite long-standing and vociferous criticism, the government has stuck firm to its policy of not offering any form of physical documentation through which the attainment of settled status can be demonstrated.

Instead, to provide evidence of their status, users can enter their passport number and date of birth and then a one-off code will be sent to email address or phone. This code can then be entered – by the user or by, for example, a potential employer or public-services provider – to demonstrate that settled status has been granted.

Concerns about whether this digital-only system could disadvantage those without access to technology were once again raised last week in a written parliamentary question from Scottish National Party MP Peter Grant, who asked whether the Home Office has given further consideration to issuing physical proof-of-status “particularly for people who do not have access to IT equipment or their digital documents”.

In response, immigration and borders minister Kevin Foster said that the decision to eschew hard-copy documents had been subject to an equality impact assessment.


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“As part of the development of the EU Settlement Scheme, including the policy to provide those granted status with online evidence of immigration status instead of a physical document, consideration was given to the impact on those who may have limited digital skills or access to IT equipment,” he said.

Foster added that this impact has been further assessed since the launch of the scheme, and the government has tried to “take steps to ensure those who may be less able to interact digitally are not disadvantaged”.

As part of this work, government has tried to ensure public-sector systems can share data with one another and that, if one agency or department has a record of an individual’s status, this information can be automatically communicated to other organisations.

“[Steps taken] have included making information about an individual’s immigration status available automatically through system to system checks, at the point at which they seek to access the public services,” the minister said. “Such checking services are already live for HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions and NHS England, and will reduce the occasions on which an individual has to use the online service to prove their status. We would be pleased to work with NHS Scotland to implement a similar checking service there relating to services which are the devolved responsibility of the Scottish Government if they wish to do so.”

He added: “The UK government has also put in place additional support services, to help those who require assistance to use the online immigration status service. We have a dedicated phone helpline… where call operators can support users through the online journey, help them to access or recover their online account, help them to update their personal details and where necessary, share status on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves. The Settlement Resolution Centre will also be able to assist those who are experiencing technical issues with their online immigration status, and if necessary, enable an individual’s status to be verified through alternative means.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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