UK decision to bill EU citizens sparks tension with Brussels
The UK has started billing thousands of EU citizens living in Britain for the medical care and financial support they received after being denied permission to stay in the country, raising new tensions with Brussels.
The EU on Thursday expressed “deep concerns” over the UK’s decision to require up to 141,000 European citizens to pay for NHS treatment and repay social benefits granted after they were denied settled status because the UK government had not updated their online records.
The EU took up the issue at a meeting with UK officials in Brussels. A joint statement from both parties read: “The EU expressed its deep concern for EU citizens who received a denial decision between June 27, 2021 and April 19, 2022, but whose digital status did not reflect this with accuracy until January 2023, due to the operation of the EU Settlement Plan (EUSS).
“Brussels called for full transparency and clarity on this matter and expressed disappointment regarding the UK’s plans for cost recovery of some services and benefits.”
According to the statement, the UK outlined the “applicable framework” and protections in place for individuals, and highlighted the need for consistency with the approach taken with UK citizens in EU statements.
The UK said affected EU citizens were told they had no right to stay, but because their online application status said their applications were pending, local authorities and government agencies continued to pay the fees. benefits.
At the meeting, the UK raised issues affecting British citizens in EU countries, in relation to property rights and access to rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Brussels is under pressure to act from EU member states seeking to uphold the rights of their citizens in the UK.
A European diplomat said: “We encourage the greatest possible flexibility in addressing the problem, particularly while protecting the most vulnerable.”
“Belgium wants the [post-Brexit] Withdrawal agreement is fully implemented and respected and has full confidence in the commission to ensure this,” said his permanent representation in Brussels.
The UK government said it “has an obligation to protect taxpayers’ money, which is why we are taking standard steps to ensure overpayments are recovered.
“We are committed to protecting the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, with protections to help those affected manage refunds.”
Meanwhile, the House of Lords European affairs committee warned on Thursday that the backlog of claims over the EU deal scheme could lead to a “Windrush”-style scandal, when citizens of the UK’s Commonwealth those who arrived before 1973 were denied legal rights or deported by the Home Office. .
In a letter, the committee asked Interior Minister Suella Braverman to provide an update on the number of EUSS applications currently pending a decision.
He urged Braverman to clarify whether people whose applications were being processed have access to benefits and can apply for key documents like driver’s licenses.
The Home Office said: “EU citizens are our friends and neighbors, and we take our obligations to ensure their rights in the UK very seriously. The EU Settlement Plan goes beyond our obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, protecting the rights of EU citizens and giving them a path to settle in the UK.
“It has been an overwhelming success with around 5.6 million people having been granted status. Digital status is quick and easy to share, with full support available to applicants, the vast majority of whom have not experienced any technical issues using our services.”
Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London