BlogGMIAU's Amanda and Denise in 2020 with Councillor Garry Bridges signing Manchester's pledge to support their children and young people affected by Brexit.

Despite EU citizens in the UK being told by Boris Johnson “”you will get the absolute certainty of the rights to live and remain” here after Brexit, and by Sajid Javid that the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) will make it “simple and straightforward [….] for EU citizens and their families to secure their long-term status in the UK” the experience of people we support in the North West has certainly been more mixed. Older people like Rosa (in her 90s and with only an expired passport, unaware the EUSS applied to long term residents like her), children in care like Anna (a 15 year old without access to the documents her social worker needed to apply) or the hundreds of people experiencing homeless we have supported through A Bed Every Night (ABEN) who have struggled to make online applications, find documents or access services.

For the past couple of years a little known public body has been quietly working to document and challenge the injustices people have faced accessing their rights in the UK post-Brexit. The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements, or IMA, has been gathering information, (including from us at GMIAU about the experience of people like Rosa, Anna and our ABEN clients), hearing complaints from members of the public, undertaking inquiries, publishing reports and preparing legal proceedings.

Pre settled status

Just before Christmas this resulted in a landmark judgment in the High Court that found people who were given Pre-Settled (temporary) immigration status through the EUSS should not lose their lawful status and become undocumented just because they don’t ‘upgrade’ to indefinite Settled Status. We know that many people will have trouble upgrading their status because of their complex experiences of homelessness, destitution or domestic abuse. They would have risked falling through the cracks, losing status – and with it the right to work, rent and live in the UK. While the Home Office has promised to appeal, we hope the final outcome will provide clarity and certainty for people who were promised that leaving the EU would not affect the rights they are now struggling to access.

Local authority monitoring

The IMA has also been examining local authorities’ duties to ensure children and young people in their care have made EUSS applications if their status was affected by Brexit immigration changes.

It will be monitoring local authorities in all four nations of the UK, and started by publishing its findings on Welsh local authorities. The report is a cautionary read. Despite repeated parliamentary assurances that children in care would have their interests protected, the IMA found children and young people are not being sufficiently identified, supported or tracked to ensure they do not end up in the UK unlawfully. Sadly, we have no doubt that similar trends will be picked up in the IMA’s reports for other parts of the UK. The way the Home Office designed the EUSS means that children risk slipping through the net in even the most diligent of local authorities.


In its investigation the IMA was not satisfied that all affected children and care leavers are being identified. It used a traffic light system – green, amber, red – to grade performance in key areas, and 95% of Welsh local authorities were graded red or amber for their failure to adequately identify affected children and young people. The IMA found this was because of three repeated themes:

–          a lack of documented processes and written operational guidelines  

–          the use of ethnicity as opposed to nationality to identify eligible children

–          failure to identify non-EU/EEA family members

 In our experience accurate identification of those affected is the most important safeguard for children in care and care leavers. And it is the area that local authorities most acutely struggle with. Manual trawls of case files has been the approach in most local authorities, with lots of potential for human error and concepts of ethnicity, nationality, and identity being too often loosely ascribed without checking the necessary paperwork to prove it.

Record keeping

In its report the IMA was also not satisfied that accurate and up-to-date records are being kept in relation to EUSS applications of all eligible children and care leavers. Two-thirds of Welsh local authorities were graded red or amber for record keeping.

At GMIAU we spend a lot of time supporting local authorities in the North West to understand the importance of keeping records for their children and young people with immigration needs. The turnover of social work staff makes this a necessity if immigration applications are not to be forgotten, as does the move of children in and out of local authority care, and the long standing nature of immigration control. Who, for example, is making sure a child in care with five years Pre-Settled Status is making an application for Settled Status when they become eligible?

Retrospective checks

The IMA found that more than a quarter of local authorities could not provide assurances that they had carried out checks in respect of all children, including care leavers up to 25 who may have left care up to seven years ago.

This isn’t a bureaucratic witch hunt, trying to trip up overstretched local authorities. The way the government designed the EUSS means children could go on to lead their lives unable to access vital benefits, healthcare or employment, and be at constant risk of detention or deportation. That is already the situation for some care leavers who have contacted us and found themselves facing the hostile environment.

What next?

The IMA’s investigations in Wales are a timely reminder that while Brexit might be done, the consequences are far from over for those affected – particularly people in vulnerable situations like children in care and care leavers. Reports on local authorities in the rest of the UK will follow, and provide more opportunities to assess risks to children and highlight what needs to be done to protect them.

For example, some  local authorities have already used the EUSS as an opportunity to embed processes that not only identify and support young people affected by Brexit, but all those with immigration needs.

Manchester City Council became the first local authority in the UK to publicly pledge its support to children in care and care leavers with insecure immigration status. Manchester’s pledge focuses on identification, access to legal advice, support towards British citizenship and access to care leaving services. Since then a national pledge from Coram and South London Refugee Association – endorsed by GMIAU – has pushed the idea out from the North West. The basic commitments in these pledges speak to the concerns the IMA is now raising and are a practical, solution-focused place for local authorities to embed learning from the EUSS and support children and young people with immigration needs going forward.