The Home Office has confirmed that it counts repeat applications to the EU Settlement Scheme as new applications, as first revealed last week on Free Movement. It appears that thousands of repeat applications from EU citizens already granted pre-settled status have been counted towards the total number of applications. This makes Home Office statistics unreliable and raises questions over the integrity of its reporting.
In my piece last week I raised questions about repeat applications under the Settlement Scheme. Pre-settled status holders seeking to upgrade to the full settled status have been able to do so since August 2019. But no repeat applications were shown in the monthly statistical reports. In the blog I queried whether such applications were therefore rolled into the totals, thus distorting the figures.
Following publication, the Home Office confirmed this is the case:
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.
This may not seem like a lot. But 0.5% of 2.2 million translates into thousands of cases. They are counted towards the total number of Settlement Scheme applications despite coming from applicants who already have status under the scheme. Further, this percentage is bound to go up sharply as hundreds of thousands of pre-settled status holders have to re-apply at some point to secure a permanent status.
It has always been difficult to assess the performance of the EU Settlement Scheme, as the Home Office lacks accurate data on the number of people who need to apply to it. Now we no longer know exactly how many have applied either.
Re-application outcomes require additional scrutiny. A grant of pre-settled status can hardly be seen as a positive result for someone who already holds it. If we are going to see refusals on eligibility grounds, they are likely to appear on re-application.
It is possible that all re-applicants have been granted settled status thus far. However, that would have inflated the ratio of settled status grants compared with pre-settled, as outcomes for one applicant are now counted twice.
What should the Home Office do now?
Firstly, it should confirm whether the system allows only one repeat application, or multiple.
Secondly, the number of repeat applications needs to be reported separately from new applications. Re-applications and re-applicants also need to be separated in the statistics if multiple applications are allowed. Repeat applications are to be expected from pre-settled status holders, but multiple applications are not.
Thirdly, and most importantly, re-application outcomes need to be reported separately and scrutinised. Should a repeat application outcome be anything but a grant of settled status, it would raise questions over the Home Office assurances that nobody is being refused on eligibility grounds.
As Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, says in the Financial Times: “the longer we don’t have that data, the more meaningless the statistics will become”.