Exactly a year before the government’s deadline for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK to apply for settled status, a bishop who has gone through the process is urging people not to delay in making their application.
Bishop William Kenney, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham and himself a Swedish national, says those who are eligible should apply well ahead of 30th June 2021.
The Government requires European citizens who have made their homes in the UK to make an application or risk losing their fundamental rights to live and work here. Everyone, including children, needs to go through the process.
Bishop Kenney warned that while many people have found it straightforward, others have faced unexpected obstacles navigating the government’s system or don’t even realise they’re required to apply. He’s therefore urging people to get their applications in early and encouraging parishioners to look out for others who might need some support.
“I’ve been in the UK now since 2006 but I was born and grew up in the UK, I then left as a missionary to Sweden in 1969 and, as I said, returned again in 2006,” said Bishop Kenney.
“During that time I became a Swedish citizen, that was because of the situation in Sweden, where at that time the Church had no juridical personality and the Swedes, rightly, were getting a bit worried about properties and things all being owned by foreigners without a single Swedish citizen among the trustees, so several of us, myself included, changed our citizenship and the Swedes were very happy about that and that’s how I became a Swedish citizen.”
However, he explained that at that time Sweden was not allowing anyone to have double citizenship, which meant he had to give up his British citizenship in order to obtain his Swedish one.
Prior to the EU referendum, this had no impact on the bishop’s right to live or work in the UK, however, this has now changed.
“Up until Brexit, I was here as an EU citizen, I never had any problems whatsoever, I paid taxes, I accessed the national health, all the ordinary things that people do,” he said.
However, the bishops then discovered that Brexit changed all of this, with the Government introducing the Settled Status Scheme, which requires all EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for five years or more to apply to get Settled Status and those who have been resident for less than five years to apply to get pre-Settled Status.
Pointing out that he knows more about applying for Settled Status, rather than pre-Settled Status, Bishop Kenney explained that applications are done online, which, he said, is where “problems begin”.
“I am 73. I would not describe myself as completely computer literate,” he said, explaining that he can send emails and use the internet. “You have to have quite a degree of computer literacy to achieve getting through this,” he said, explaining that he knew he would not be capable of carrying out the application without help when he received the information of what was needed, including taking photographs of himself and his passport and uploading them to his computer.
The bishop explained that he received help from the register office in Slough, as advertised where people could receive help with carrying out applications.
“I met absolutely charming and very helpful people who took my photographs of my passport and uploaded them and I realised then that I had done the right thing even though I had to pay for it,” he said. “It took the very good lady there, I think, five attempts to get my photographs onto the computer. I, with my type of computer literacy, having failed twice, would have thought it was all my fault and would have given up. She didn’t, she knew what she was doing and that was fine.”
Bishop Kenney then returned home, filled in the long form, added his National Insurance Number, which is required, and sent it off. However, it was refused as he didn’t prove he’d been in the country for five years.
“They sent a whole list of various documents I could produce in order to prove that I had been here for five years and they had to be uploaded,” he said.
Bishop Kenney then received help from his secretary, who put together the document and sent it off. However, this was refused due to document being too large and when the bishop asked his secretary to help him to edit it, she admitted that she didn’t know how to and they agreed to begin the whole process again from scratch and eventually it was accepted.
“It took quite some effort,” the bishop said. “I have a suspicion that for many people, shall we say over 55 or 60, this is going to be a problem. For younger people they probably can manage it in one go because they know exactly what to do.”
Bishop Kenney also revealed that some of the people in his diocese had also faced similar challenges.
“Some of the very old have been in touch with me, asking first of all did they have to do it. I told them yes, they do, everybody has to,” he said.
Recalling his conversation with a 91-year-old Italian lady, he said she didn’t have a mobile phone, computer or email address – all things needed to make an application. He explained that she had lived in the UK since 1949 and was very happy and pro-British but didn’t have a clue what to do concerning making an application to the Settled Status Scheme.
Bishop Kenney said the lady received help from her grandchildren but raised concern that others in her situation may not have supportive younger family members to rely on for help.
In a stark message to those who do need to make an application, Bishop Kenney said: “Apply and do it as soon as possible. This took me some months to get through what I have described. I’m sure it’s going to take other people in similar situations the same amount of time.
“If you cannot apply because you don’t have the skills necessary then start shouting and get somebody to help. For instance, in our parishes there’ll be some youngster who will be quite happy to help, I’m sure. Most of the people I’ve met have been delighted to talk to old people because they’ve heard their history, it’s all new for them and it’s been fun for both sides, so I’m not negative in that sense but they must apply.”
To make an application see: https://www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families
To get help applying see: https://www.gov.uk/help-eu-settlement-scheme
For information from the European Commission see: https://www.eurights.uk
For information from Settled see: https://settled.org.uk/en/
Picture: File photo, dated 17th February 2016 of the EU and Union flags. (Stefan Rousseau/PA).