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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

More than 140,000 EU citizens in UK may have wrongly received benefits

Sign outside the Home Office in Westminster, London.
The IMA has written to the Home Office to ‘seek clarity on what steps have already been taken to remedy it and what further steps will be taken’. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

More than 140,000 EU citizens in the UK may have received benefits they were not entitled to due to a Home Office error, it has emerged.

The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), the statutory body charged with protecting EU citizens’ rights post Brexit, has expressed concern that the situation arose and the impact it could have on those affected.

It said it was made aware of the issue last week and has now written to the Home Office to “seek clarity on what steps have already been taken to remedy it and what further steps will be taken”.

The government could decide to demand millions of pounds in refunds from EU citizens or may opt not to pursue those who have wrongly received benefits and are no longer living in the country.

The error came to light after the Home Office conducted an exercise to update UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI)’s register of individuals who have been refused settled or pre-settled status in the post-Brexit EU settlement scheme (EUSS).

Records of those who had decisions pending were given a “certificate of application” to allow them to enjoy rights, guaranteed by the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, while their case was being investigated. These rights included access to benefits.

As a result of the exercise, the Home Office discovered as many as 141,000 had continued to show a certificate of application status rather than “refused” status, the IMA said. This meant they still had access to benefits although they had been denied the right to stay in the UK.

“The Home Office has confirmed that this only affects individuals who received a refusal decision between 27 June 2021 and 19 April 2022. Anyone who has been granted pre-settled or settled status is unaffected, and they do not need to take any action,” the organisation added.

It is also “seeking assurance that the EUSS digital system is fit for purpose, maintained and audited to reflect accurate digital statuses, and accurately available on demand for all eligible citizens”.

A Home Office spokesperson said the online digital status for some EU settlement scheme applicants who were refused status has been updated.

It did not disclose how much money may have been paid in error.

“We are working across government and with the EU and member states to understand any further implications and to ensure the situation is managed quickly and pragmatically,” the spokesperson said.

According to the latest Home Office quarterly figures 5.36 million adult EU citizens have settled or pre settled status along with 1.15 million children and 171,000 aged over 65, bringing the total to 6.67m.

375,000 applications were refused, withdrawn or void.

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