The UK has started billing thousands of EU citizens resident in Britain for healthcare and financial support received after they were denied leave to remain in the country, raising fresh tensions with Brussels.
The EU on Thursday expressed “deep concerns” about the UK’s decision to demand as many as 141,000 European nationals pay for NHS treatment and refund welfare benefits granted after they were refused settled status because the UK government had failed to update its online records.
The EU addressed the issue in a meeting with UK officials in Brussels. A joint statement from both sides said: “The EU raised their deep concerns about the EU citizens who received a refusal decision between 27 June 2021 and 19 April 2022 but whose digital status did not accurately reflect this until January 2023, due to the operation of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
“Brussels asked for full transparency and clarity on this matter and expressed its disappointment regarding the UK’s plans on recovery of costs of some services and benefits.”
According to the statement, the UK outlined the “applicable framework” and protections in place for individuals, and highlighted the need for consistency with the approach taken with UK nationals in EU statements.
The UK said that affected EU nationals were told they had no right to remain but because their online application status said their claims were pending, local authorities and government agencies continued to pay out benefits.
At the meeting, the UK raised issues affecting British citizens in EU countries, relating to property rights and access to entitlements under the withdrawal agreement.
Brussels is under pressure to act from EU member states seeking to defend the rights of their nationals in the UK.
One European diplomat said: “We encourage the highest possible flexibility in tackling the problem, in particular while protecting those who are vulnerable.”
“Belgium wants the [post-Brexit] withdrawal agreement to be implemented and respected in its entirety and has every confidence in the commission to ensure this,” its permanent representation in Brussels said.
The UK government said it “has an obligation to protect taxpayers’ money, which is why we are taking standard steps to ensure overpayments are recovered.
“We are committed to protecting the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, with protections in place to support those affected to manage any repayments.”
Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London