Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Italian dementia sufferer's struggle to get UK permanent residency

Silvia Delpoio is one of a number of EU nationals who have been offered temporary residency despite living in the UK for decades

Silvia and Eugenio Delpoio. Family photo
Silvia and Eugenio Delpoio. Family photo

The family of a dementia sufferer have expressed their frustration after their mother was not offered permanent UK residency, despite having lived in the country for almost 60 years.

All of the estimated 3.6 million EU nationals living in the UK who do not have British citizenship must now apply for “settled status”, which guarantees them the same rights they have now, if they wish to remain in the country after Brexit.

Settled status is granted to EU citizens who can prove they have been resident in the UK for at least five years.

The online scheme, which was launched in March, “makes it easy for EU citizens and their families to get the status they need to remain in the UK”, according to Britain’s Home Office. But already problems have arisen.

When 86-year-old Silvia Delpoio applied for settled status in May, her ill health and lack of access to internet meant she had to be helped by her two daughters.

The Italian national moved to the UK in 1961 where she met her husband, Eugenio, who had been invited to come over to Lancashire, northern England, in 1955 to work in the mills by the British government.

Mrs Delpoio has spent the rest of life in the UK and so should automatically qualify for settled status. She has been an active member of the community in south London where her and her husband live, working as a school dinner lady, paying taxes and raising her two children.

But one month after sending off her application, the Home Office only offered Mrs Delpoio residency for five years, saying she had not offered enough evidence of her continued residence in the UK to grant her settled status.

“They said when we applied, we pressed the wrong button but we’ve got no way of knowing if that is true or not,” her son-in-law Paolo Arrigo told The National.

“They also said we could not prove her whereabouts in the last six months. She’s got dementia, she’s housebound. How do you prove that someone is housebound?

“She has visits from the doctor but they would not accept that as proof.”

Silvia Delpoio with her nephew. Family photo
Silvia Delpoio with her nephew. Family photo

Mrs Delpoio was offered pre-settled status, which does not grant her a permanent right to stay in the UK, and would mean she will have to apply for settled status again after the five years have elapsed.

The grandmother of four’s case is far from uncommon, in recent weeks, EU nationals who have lived in the UK for far longer than the five years being given pre-settled status have come forward with their stories. These include French chef Richard Bertinet, who came to the UK more than 20 years ago.

The number of people being granted pre-settled status rather than settled status has risen from 34 per cent the month after the scheme was launched to 42 per cent in July.

The rise has led to Brexiter MEP Daniel Hannan calling on the Home Office to ensure that long-term UK residents are given permanent residency “before we end up with another Windrush scandal”.

The issue has become increasingly fraught amid uncertainty over Boris Johnson’s plans for the country as the British leader threatens a general election to see off parliamentary rebels who were poised on Tuesday night to take control of parliament’s agenda to block his October 31 Brexit deadline.

The confrontation has raised the likelihood of a no-deal exit that would threaten the guarantees that Europeans living and working in Britain can stay.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take the UK out of the EU by October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.  AFP / PRU
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take the UK out of the EU by October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.  AFP / PRU

Holders of pre-settled status have less rights than those who have settled status. If there is a no deal, it could be harder for pre-settled status holders to access certain benefits, according to Ilse Mogensen, Advocacy and Public Affairs Officer at the3million.

The organisation, which was set up after the 2016 referendum to fight for EU citizens rights in the UK, has serious concerns about the settlement scheme.

"We are finding that in many cases the automatic checks are insufficient to prove you have been resident for five years, and people are being asked to submit a lot of additional evidence for a settled status application," Ms Mogensen said. "It becomes a lot more complicated if you have to submit pages and pages of bills and proof of employment."

Mr Arrigo said the Home Office officials he had spoken to over the phone had been helpful but the thought of struggling through online process again for both his parents-in-law was too much. They had previously begun the application for Mr Delpoio, who is 90, but were unable to finish before the online session before it timed out.

The family decided to scrap their previous application and start again – visiting an Italian citizens’ advice bureau in central London last week and paying a lawyer to help guide them through the process.

But the trip into central London and the meeting, which lasted around two hours, was a confusing experience for Mrs Delpoio.

“She sat there thinking we were in Italy and asking what time dinner was going to be when it was only midday,” Mr Arrigo said.

Mr Arrigo said he wanted to share his mother-in-law’s struggle to bring awareness to the problems elderly and vulnerable EU nationals would face trying to secure the same rights they had before Brexit.

He said: “We want to get the message out there that for people who are frail or are not computer literate, it’s not an easy process.”

The Home Office said that nobody has been granted pre-settled status without being offered the opportunity to submit evidence that they qualify for settled status.

“EU Settlement Scheme statistics confirm that by the end of June not a single person had been refused," a spokesperson said.

“Both pre-settled status and settled status allow people to work, study, receive healthcare and access benefits and services as they do now. More than one million people have been granted status through the EU Settlement Scheme so far and two thirds of those have been granted settled status, which is in line with our expectations.

“EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay.”

Updated: September 3, 2019 09:18 PM

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