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UK faces watchdog inquiry over EU citizens’ paperwork failings

LONDON — The U.K. government faces a formal inquiry into alleged failures to swiftly provide EU citizens with the vital paperwork needed to work and access basic services in Britain.

The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) — the watchdog set up to look after EU citizens’ rights in Britain — announced an inquiry Monday after spending months compiling complaints from EU Settlement Scheme applicants who experienced delays in receiving their certificates of application.

The watchdog said such cases might indicate a breach of the U.K.’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Brexit divorce deal states that the U.K. must issue the documents immediately after receiving an application, so allowing EU nationals living in Britain to exercise crucial rights — such as applying for jobs or renting a home — while the Home Office reviews their application.

Kathryn Chamberlain, chief executive of the IMA, said the watchdog recognizes “the potential impact this important issue could have on people’s lives and their rights,” but warned an inquiry “will not lead to results overnight.”

“In the meantime, we strongly encourage citizens experiencing ongoing issues to seek individual support through organizations which provide tailored advice,” she said.

As part of the inquiry, the IMA will review the complaints received so far, interview key government officials and investigate the policies and processes adopted by the Home Office for issuing certificates of application.

The watchdog has the power to bring legal action against the U.K. government where appropriate.

The issue of delayed paperwork was discussed during January’s meeting of the EU-U.K. Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights, which oversees the implementation of the divorce deal’s provisions on EU nationals in Britain and British citizens in the EU.

The Home Office has previously blamed its backlog on the large number of applications submitted on paper, which it says can take longer to be resolved than online applications. The department argues it must check each applicant’s identity before issuing them with a certificate of application.

But campaigners for citizens’ rights insist the Brexit agreement does not require the government to confirm people’s identities before sending a certificate.

Luke Piper, director of policy at The3million lobby group, welcomed the inquiry, but lamented it took so long. He said his group has been flagging cases to the Home Office and the IMA since April 2021, and published a report last November focused specifically on this issue.

“In some cases they [certificates of application] have taken in excess of six months to arrive,” Piper said. “The implications cannot be understated and need urgently addressing. People have been denied healthcare, work and other basic rights simply because they didn’t receive a certificate.”

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