EU nationals who failed to apply for post-Brexit residency in Britain could have benefits stopped by the UK government within weeks, the Scottish government has said.
The devolved Edinburgh government raised the alarm in a letter to UK ministers that expressed concerns that people could be driven into homelessness.
Nationals from EU countries had a June 30 deadline to seek “settled status” in the UK and were told they would become undocumented if they did not apply.
Updated figures published this week showed 5.6 million people applied to the scheme before the deadline, with 4.9 million approved.
But Scotland’s Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth said she was concerned that vulnerable people had fallen through the cracks.
While payments have continued since June, these are due to end, she said.
“I understand that you will start suspending these payments at the end of September and discontinue them completely from the end of October,” Ms Gilruth wrote.
“Poor literacy, a lack of knowledge of English, mental and physical illnesses and disability are all reasons why someone may not have applied.”
“Terminating benefits may lead to homelessness, destitution, hunger and poor physical and mental health. Action to stop payments is unnecessary and disproportionate with a clear risk of harm to people who require our support.”
She quoted from a letter that she said was sent to EU nationals, telling them that “any benefits you receive will stop” if they do not apply.
Responding to Ms Gilruth, the UK government did not confirm when benefits would stop, but said late applications for settled status were still possible for certain groups.
They include people who did not have internet access, suffered mental health problems or were in an abusive relationship.
“We continue to use every possible channel, including letters, telephone calls, texts, and the direct contact our frontline staff have with their customers, to encourage those who are eligible to apply,” a government spokesman said.
“By doing so, they can secure their status so they can continue to reside, work, study and access services and benefits in the UK.”
The governments in London and Edinburgh are political rivals, with Scottish ministers supporting an independence push that the UK government opposes.
This week’s figures showed that nearly 300,000 applications under the EU settlement scheme were filed in Scotland.
The numbers of applicants far exceeded a government estimate that about 3 million EU nationals lived in Britain.
Before Brexit – the UK's exit from the EU in 2020 – they did not need a UK visa.
Polish and Romanian nationals made up the largest share of applicants, with more than a million from each country.
About 420,000 non-EU nationals, including many people from India and Pakistan, applied under a route for close relatives of EU citizens.