EUSS Benefits Cut-Off: The Perils of a Constitutive System
In July, an internal letter from the DWP, seen by The Independent, suggested that EU nationals who haven’t applied for EUSS will have their benefits cut off in September. For employment rights charity, the Work Rights Centre, this news was disappointing, but not surprising. The charity's director, Dr Dora Olivia Vicol, has spoken previously about her concern that vulnerable EU nationals would be penalised for late applications to the scheme.
"The DWP's announcement that EEA and Swiss nationals would have their benefits stopped unless they apply for the EU Settlement Scheme does not come as a surprise," she said. "It is a consequence of the government's insistence to establish the EUSS as a constitutive system, rejecting campaigners' pleas to learn from Windrush and opt for a more permissive declaratory system. Under a declaratory system, EUSS status would have been a mere proof of rights. By contrast, under the current system EEA nationals have no rights without EUSS status. It's as if the landlord changed the lock and you didn't get a new key cut on time, and you are forever banned from entering even when your life's belongings are in there.
"While the DWP did make some efforts to raise awareness of the importance of the EUSS, I'm still very worried. Mail will remain unopened because there are people who get anxious whenever they get a letter from the government. Others are not able to understand the administrative language and rely upon the help of family, friends, or advisers to interpret it, or struggle with IT literacy. It's unrealistic to expect that everyone who should have applied has done it already."
While it's impossible to estimate how many people will be affected, the charity has inferred that - if 10% of all 3,5 million EU nationals claim benefits, as per a Migration Observatory report - it could be up to 350,000 claimants. If even 0.1% among them failed to apply, that's over 3,500 people at risk of losing their benefits.
Dr Vicol's message for those yet to apply to the EUSS is clear: "Apply as soon as possible, and get in touch for help. The Home Office's current stance is that even after the deadline it is accepting applications under some circumstances, and it is looking for reasons to award status, not to reject applications. But we don't know when that stance will change, so it's vital that EEA nationals and their eligible family members secure their status."