The UK’s decision to bill EU citizens is causing tension with Brussels

The UK has started billing thousands of EU citizens in Britain for healthcare and financial aid they received after they were refused permission to stay in the country, fueling fresh tensions with Brussels.

The EU on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the UK’s decision to claim NHS treatment and welfare benefits for 141,000 European citizens after they were denied settlement status because the UK government failed to update their online records.

The EU addressed the issue at a meeting with British officials in Brussels. According to the joint statement of the two parties: “The EU expressed deep concern about those EU citizens who received a rejection decision between 27 June 2021 and 19 April 2022, but whose digital status did not accurately reflect this until January 2023, the European Due to the operation of the Union. the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).

“Brussels has asked for full transparency and clarity on this matter and has expressed its disappointment with the UK’s reimbursement of costs for certain services and benefits.”

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According to the statement, the UK outlined the “applicable framework” and protections for individuals and highlighted the need to align the approach to UK nationals in EU statements.

The UK said affected EU nationals were told they had no right to stay, but because their claims were pending according to their online application status, local authorities and government bodies continued to pay benefits.

At the meeting, the UK raised issues related to property rights and access to rights under the Withdrawal Agreement for British nationals in EU countries.

Brussels is under pressure to act from EU member states who want to protect the rights of their citizens in the UK.

A European diplomat said: “We encourage as much flexibility as possible in dealing with this issue, especially to protect the vulnerable.”

“Belgium wants it [post-Brexit] The Withdrawal Agreement must be fully implemented and respected and it has full confidence in the Commission to ensure this,” the Permanent Mission in Brussels said.

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The UK government said it had a “duty to protect taxpayers’ money, so we are taking normal steps to recover overpayments.

“We are committed to protecting the rights of British citizens in the EU and the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and providing safeguards to help those affected manage repayments.”

Meanwhile, the House of Lords European Affairs Committee warned on Thursday that failure to meet the demands of the EU settlement system could lead to a “Windrush”-style scandal where UK citizens who arrived in the UK before 1973 were wrongly denied legal rights or deported by the Home Office. .

In a letter, the committee asked the Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, to provide up-to-date information on the number of EUSS applications pending a decision.

He urged Braverman to clarify whether people whose applications have been reviewed can access benefits and apply for key documents such as 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 system goes beyond our obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, protecting the rights of EU citizens and providing them with a pathway to settle in the UK.

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“It has been an overwhelming success, with around 5.6 million people getting the status. Digital status can be shared quickly and easily, providing full support to applicants, the vast majority of whom have experienced no technical issues while using our services.”

Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London