The application process for EU citizens to get settled status is notoriously restrictive. To apply, they currently need either access to an app that only works on Android devices, or to go in person to one of 50 service centres providing the identity document scanning service required to complete the process.
When the scheme opens fully from 30 March, they can also post their identity documents if they don’t have the Android app – but some are afraid to wait until after the Article 50 deadline of 29 March, when the UK’s future relationship with the European Union looks uncertain.
There was also originally a £65 fee, which has since been waived by the government. But anyone applying before 30 March still has to pay £65 and then wait for the refund.
While the Home Office’s implementation of this scheme so far has been generally criticised, it’s putting a particular burden on hospitals. Certain NHS workers were among the first people to access the process, in a series of pilots ahead of public use.
Before the government u-turned on the £65 fee, a number of hospitals offered to refund the cost for their staff. These included Addenbrooke’s, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford, St Bart’s, University College London, Imperial, Guy’s and St Thomas’, the mental health trust Tavistock and Portman, Chelsea and Westminster, Royal Brompton and Harefield and Moorfields Eye Hospital.
The Health Service Journal calculated that this could cost around £100,000 for University College London hospital and £26,000 for Newcastle. For context, the median salary for a nurse in the UK is £23,000.
The Home Office tells me everyone who has paid will be reimbursed. A spokesperson for Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, which paid for 200 staff to apply for settled status during the pilot in November and December (this would have cost £13,000), says it has asked the government to be reimbursed. It hasn’t yet received the refund.
Addenbrooke’s also reveals that it paid for Android phones so that its staff were able to apply. These cost £166 each and the hospital rented two of them, which are currently “proving very popular”.
The hospital is anticipating “many more” of its workers – one in ten of whom are from the EU – will apply during the national roll-out. This could require buying in more Android devices, and Addenbrooke’s isn’t alone.
“We are aware that various hospitals are assisting their EU staff, shepherding their staff, through the application process,” says Susan van de Ven, a Liberal Democrat county councillor in Cambridgeshire who sits on the county council’s health committee. “There are examples of others as well.”
This is confirmed by other health service insiders. “Where it’s become really clear that it’s been a problem for their staff trying to apply for settled status, trusts have been making Android tablets available for their staff to use,” says Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers. “This went hand-in-hand with quite a lot of trusts also deciding to pay the settled status fee… [they] made the decision both to make Android tablets available so that staff would easily be able to do their settled status application, and were also paying for it.”
While it makes sense for hospitals to support their substantial EU workforces, they are paying for a technologically restrictive bureaucratic process imposed by the government.
“It’s good that trusts were able to help, and it sends the right message to staff,” says Cordery. “But the whole process inevitably puts a burden on frontline organisations delivering the services.”
With the NHS facing ambulance delays, having to divert patients from overrun A&E departments to other hospitals, and unsafe bed occupancy levels, it jars that a Home Office scheme is compelling hospitals to spend their stretched resources on the right technology.
“There is no budget for this process [applying for settled status], there’s no budget for Brexit contingency planning and there’s no budget for immigration assistance,” warns van de Ven. “It is utterly ridiculous, absurd, that they are having to scramble to purchase a whole bunch of Android phones.”
While the Home Office says everyone who has paid the settled status fee will be reimbursed, it has not commented on reimbursing the cost of Android devices for hospitals.
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“We welcome the support that hospitals and employers are providing to their employees.”