Just shy of 2.6 million applications for status under the EU Settlement Scheme have been received since its launch in January 2019. That is what the latest set of statistics published by the Home Office, state.
October 2019 saw the highest number of applications per month since the EU Settlement Scheme was introduced: over half a million applications were submitted, with a looming possibility of Brexit day pushing people to action. The slightly overwhelming flow of applications has led to a backlog in processing times: more than 20% of applications were still being considered a month after having been received.
As more people apply, the strengths and weaknesses of the Scheme are becoming increasingly apparent.
Preliminarily, statistical estimates are unlikely to be accurate because it is simply not known how many EU nationals live in the UK. Free movement law has allowed EEA nationals to enter and leave the country without it being recorded for decades. As such, any estimates as to how many people should apply are only just that – estimates, which are hard to back up with hard evidence.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have attempted to do some work on this, but as the Scheme solidifies and application numbers increase, we can see that their published estimates are plainly wrong. Kuba Jablonowski, a Political Geography lecturer and researcher at Exeter University, dug into the numbers.
One major drawback of the ONS statistics is that some applications under the Scheme are counted towards the total number of applications despite coming from applicants who already have status under the Scheme. These are people who were granted or refused status, and then, for whatever reason, re-apply. The Home Office has confirmed that it counts repeat applications under the EU Settlement Scheme as new applications:
“It’s right that every application is counted because each application has a separate outcome. However, our initial analysis of internal figures suggest that repeat applications currently represent less than 0.5% of applications.”
0.5% out of 2.6 million applications may not sound that significant, but it means that thousands of cases are counted twice, distorting the statistics. Additionally, if the Home Office continues to use the same statistical methods, the discrepancy between the real number of applicants and the published numbers will only increase as many applicants who were initially granted pre-settled status will have to apply again to receive settled status, thus all becoming “double applicants.” Moreover, those who get a status in the crown dependencies, and also get a status under the Home Office scheme, are counted in the Home Office numbers. In reality, these should be ignored for the purposes of calculating the number of missing applicants.
Another red flag is the low number of applicants from the age group 65 or older. According to the statistics, only 2% of the total applications come from people aged over 65, although they make up a higher percentage of the EEA population in the UK. Reasons for this include the technology barrier, as well as the limited reach of government marketing and campaigning of the Scheme to secluded and isolated communities.
The discrepancy between expected/estimated applications and true applications is confirmed in the monthly statistics from October 2019. Following the ONS estimates, by October 2019, 132-148% of Portuguese nationals, 105-121% of Bulgarians, 93-102% of Italians, 90-101% of Spaniards and 92-99% of Romanians applied under the Scheme. Based on these numbers, more people from these countries have applied than the ONS even estimate are in the country – and there is another year of the transitional period to go, in which more applications are anticipated.
Clearly, there is little oversight on how well the Settlement Scheme is taking off. We do not know how many people have applied today – let alone how many people are supposed to apply by the cut-off date of 31 December 2020. Either the estimated number of EU nationals in the UK is inaccurate, or the double applications under the scheme have troubled the numbers – or both.