Blog: Grainne Mellon on setting up the Here for Good EUSS Project

Grainne MellonThe Here for Good EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) project is enlisting barristers to help vulnerable individuals apply before the deadline of 30 June 2021. The EUSS was introduced following the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Previously, EU citizens could visit or live in the UK without needing a visa, but now, all EU citizens must take the proactive step of applying to the EUSS for either “settled” or “pre-settled” status, depending on their length of residence and many of the most  disadvantaged are falling through the cracks. 

"I first became concerned about the ability of vulnerable EU citizens to access the EUSS when I started working on cases concerning vulnerable EU children in care.

The statistics on children and care-leavers are worrying and reveal that many have not yet been identified by local authorities or supported to apply to the scheme even though there are only eight weeks to go. Children who fail to register risk losing their right to reside in the UK and becoming undocumented after the deadline to apply for the scheme passes on 30 June 2021.

The risks to children also apply to countless other EU citizens who miss the deadline including victims of trafficking, homeless people and those with mental health problems. Many EU citizens have lived in the UK for most of their lives and face a cliff-edge loss of rights including rights to reside, work and access benefits if they don’t take steps to regularise their status in time.

With the deadline fast approaching, I decided to start to work to help EU citizens - and in particular, vulnerable children and families - apply to the scheme. I approached a number of charities including Here for Good - a brilliant organisation that offers free high-quality legal advice to the most in-need EEA citizens and their family members, to offer pro bono with some cases. In addition to having its own legal team, Here for Good runs a large network of volunteer lawyers across the UK that provide 1-2-1 complex casework support to society's most vulnerable - including the homeless, victims of domestic violence, victims of trafficking, the elderly, those in financial hardship, and those with complex needs.

My first cases were complex and included a family of EU children who had no identity documents; a looked after child who was subject to a criminal investigation but had not yet been charged and a woman who had lived in the UK for a long period of time but struggled with literacy. Each of these clients risked losing their right to reside in the UK if an application was not made on their behalf. It was a real shock to be reminded just how difficult it was for these families to access legal help to progress applications that they needed to make.

Although I was working as hard as I could, I was conscious that time was running out and that whatever I could do in the final weeks was nowhere near what the Bar as a whole could do if we came together. I decided to help organise a group of immigration barristers to join Here for Good's volunteer network. I contacted a number of the main immigration chambers and also put a call out on social media. I also contacted Advocate to ask if they were interested in working together with Here for Good to support barristers volunteering with applications to the scheme and they were. Advocate agreed to offer its licence to barristers who aren’t direct access qualified but who want to help. Here for Good is very happy to have additional volunteers in the run up to the EUSS deadline and will refer complex cases to barristers that join its network. As a result, the Here for Good EUSS Project was born. 

In the space of just a few weeks, we have had interest from over 70 volunteer barristers from across the country, each of whom will, I hope, agree to join the Here for Good volunteer network and provide 1-2-1 casework support to one or two applicants before the deadline of 30 June 2021. That is a huge number which can really make a difference to the lives of hundreds of EU citizens lives in the coming weeks. I have been so impressed with the commitment and dedication these barristers have shown to working pro bono at a difficult time and to the work that Here for Good and Advocate do all year round.  

I would really encourage any barrister who wants to volunteer in the next two months to get in touch. Here for Good is running an information and training session for barristers on 29 April 2021 and all of those interested are welcome to come along.

There are now just eight weeks to go and every and all support is welcome."

Grainne Mellon is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.