2017-03-07

More Evidence-free Hyperventilation on the Home Office and the Three-Million EU Citizens Living Here

(A response to Wolfgang Münchau @EuroBriefing’s A primer for Europeans in post-Brexit Britain and to Rob Ford, @robfordmancs, Professor of Political Science at Manchester)




So let’s examine the issue in a bit more depth.....

Wolfgang begins by noting that “The main issue for EU nationals in the UK is not, in fact, whether the UK reaches a deal on the status of EU residents”. He is right. Despite Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s insistence that the plight of EU citizens here is the fault of “a few EU countries insisting there can be no negotiation before notification” the real source of the three-million’s problems are closer to home. As the UK Home Office puts it: “EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least 5 years automatically have a permanent right to reside” and it has been estimated that about 84% of EU citizens currently living in the UK already meet this criterion or will have met it by the time we leave. 

The continued residency[i] of the 84% rests not on our negotiations with the EU, but on the behaviour of the UK Home Office.

Wolfgang Münchau complains that his “most dreaded chore this year will be to fill out an 85-page UK government application form” that he hopes will give him “permanent residence in the UK after Brexit”. The good news for Wolfgang is that a simplified online version of the form was made available - several months ago in fact. The even better news for Wolfgang is that, for people using the online form (but not for people using the 85 page paper form) the requirement to list all trips abroad since originally entering the UK – including entry and exit dates – has been quietly dropped.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad news, and some really bad news…..

First of all it should be pointed out, pace Wolfgang’s complaints about the length of the form, it is the need to provide reams of information that most people simply won’t have kept, rather than the 85 pages that is the real issue here. Another problem is that the form, both in its long and short versions, is riddled with ambiguities and contradictions and other than being advised to hire expensive lawyers, you will get little help with the form from the Home Office. And yet another problem is that significant numbers of EU citizens are disbarred from using the online form and from using the local(ish) passport checking service. They have to surrender their passports for months on end.

Wolfgang continues:

The UK grants permanent residency to [employed and the self-employed] who [have] been resident for five years or more. They have the right to apply for formal permanent residency status, for which they need to fill out that 85-page form. They do not have to do this and are still deemed to be permanently resident if they do not fill in the form. There are, however, two reasons why they might choose to do so. The first is insurance against a retroactive change in rules. It has happened before. The second would be to become a UK citizen, for which formal permanent residency is a prerequisite.

This is all true (sort of) but ignores a crucial consideration. Post Brexit, there are going to be two categories of EU citizens in the UK: those who are allowed to continue living and working here and those who are only allowed to visit for short periods as tourists. There is going to have to be some way of distinguishing between these two groups so everyone in the first category is going to have to be issued with Permanent Residency Documents. In other words, three million people are, sooner or later, going to have to fill in the form; or at least a form. There are few signs that the Home Office is geared up to process applications on this scale; and they only have two years.

Among those who are currently applying to the UK Home Office to try and beat the rush and get their situation in the UK regularized prior to Brexit, about 34% are being turned down – some then being ordered, for good measure, to pack up and leave the UK. It should be noted here that this is 34% of people who think they have a good case and who have sufficient initiative to fill in all the forms and assemble the reams of required evidence. I think we can assume that, given current procedures, there will be a far higher rate of failed applications once everyone has to apply.

And now we come to a really crucial issue: the reason for most of the failed applications.

It seems that about 12% of applications are rejected because applicants have failed to fill in the forms correctly or failed to provide all the bits of paper the Home Office insists on. The other 22% of applications are refused. There are no statistics on why these applications are refused, but the main reason seems to be failure to provide proof of “Comprehensive Medical Insurance”. People cannot provide proof of this because they didn’t, and don’t, have it or need it. They use the NHS.

This all gets very complicated but, as Wolfgang notes, correctly but misleadingly, “this is EU law”. In fact, according to the EU, the Home Office is in breach of this EU law when it insists, retrospectively, that some categories of UK residents who have been legally using NHS services all their lives require evidence of health insurance before they can apply for residency. This is, however, exactly what the Home Office is insisting. The Home Office will not even provide a definition of what constitutes Comprehensive Medical Insurance and EU citizens who ask insurance companies for such a thing report bafflement and/or ridiculous quotes for coverage.

But it gets even worse….

The latest change the Home Office has made in the accompanying guidance for filling in the forms contains a chilling new entry:

“Scenario 3: Colette, a Belgian citizen, came to the UK for a holiday in August 2003 but then remained without permission or entitlement under community law. Any residence in the UK after her entitlement under community law came to an end was residence in breach of the immigration laws.”

In other words, there are many EU citizens exercising their right to free movement here in blissful ignorance of the fact that our Home Office now considers their presence not just unwelcome but unlawful. Residence in breach of the immigration laws can theoretically land you in prison.

Wolfgang states confidently that the deportation of people in Collette’s situation "has not happened, and it will not happen". He is probably right but he displays astonishing complacency.

As both foaming-at-the-gills Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg and liberal remain voters like Professor Ford are fond of chanting in unison “The idea that the Home Office will round up and deport three million people is bonkers”. What they don’t seem to realize is that – as Professor Jonathan Portes keeps shouting to anyone who will listen[ii] immigration control is – especially for foreigners with visa-free travel to the UK – increasingly conducted not by passport control but by employers. Landlords, banks, and hospital doctors seem destined to take on more and more of this role too.

So, assuming there is no change of heart or policy at the Home Office (a qualification that I apparently have to keep emphasizing) hundreds of thousands of EU citizens resident in the UK - those who never got around to filling in the forms, those without the required proof of status, homemakers and students who “need” but can’t get or afford comprehensive medical insurance, those whose applications are refused by the Home Office etc – are increasingly going to find themselves with no continuing right to work here or rent a house or open a bank account or receive medical treatment or get back into the country if an official at LHR (correctly) refuses to believe they are coming here as a tourist and they cannot furnish a residency permit.

There will be no mass round ups, just a slow war of attrition over many years during which the lives of “low value / high volume” EU migrants (to use Iain Duncan Smith’s charming turn of phrase) are made difficult or impossible.

I suppose that many of the hundreds of thousands working in the UK’s large black economy and the destitute may simply carry on living here until they get caught. Below the radar, the UK is already interning and deporting thousands of EU nationals it considers unfit to be here.

Negotiating with the EU is not going to help any of those people. Even if the Home Office does have a change of heart and starts trying to think of new ways to help rather than new ways to hinder EU citizens, and vastly simplifies its procedures, is it then going to write to all the people it has rejected apologizing and rescinding the rejections it has issued under current rules? This seems fanciful.

This is our story: “EU citizens in the UK are already facing Home Office threats”. My wife and I will be fine. I refuse to be bullied by the Home Office and we are already considering going to retire in Germany (if they’ll have me). I no longer feel at home in the UK and my wife certainly doesn’t.

Tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of other EU citizens are going to suffer a great deal more than we are and I intend to keep hyperventilating on their behalf as long as I draw breath.




[i] Their continued rights to pensions, healthcare, study, free travel etc are another matter and will hinge more directly on what is agreed with the other 27 EU countries.

2017-03-02

How to fight the Home Office and Win: Subject Access Requests




STOP PRESS 
2017-03-11
Home Office advise foreigners to get themselves arrested if they want to get hold of their lists of trips abroad. (sort of  😣 ). Please scroll to "So the easiest way"
- or read the whole glorious story, my horribly mixed metaphors, and my call to arms (directly below).
2017-04-14 ICO respond again  Please scroll to end.
If you are an EU citizen resident in the UK you will probably have discovered by now that the UK Government is devoting a huge amount of time and effort towards making your life as difficult as possible.

If, fearing that the Home Office might arrest and deport you one day, you have decided to apply for formal recognition of your right to be in the UK (a right people notionally acquire after five years of living here) you will have discovered that you have to start the ball rolling by filling in an eighty-five page form.

The form asks, inter alia, for dates of departure, dates of return, and number of days away for every absence from the UK since entering the UK. In my wife’s case, this period spans thirty-one years. When I inquired about this requirement, I was assured that we “only” needed to fill this section in for the last five years.

Some time ago, the Home Office put up an online version of this form but many categories of EEA citizens are prohibited from using the online form and will have to use the paper form.

More recently, the Home Office quietly dropped the requirement to list exits and entries from the UK altogether – but only for those who are allowed to use the online form. In any case, EU applicants for naturalization (a different kettle of fish) in the UK also need to list entries to and exits from the UK for the last five years.

There is an added complication here which I should mention. The five years you choose to qualify for permanent residency do not actually have to be the most recent five years. So even if you are “only” filling in dates for five years of trips abroad you may need dates from longer ago than five years.

So how do you go about constructing your list of dates so that you can send them back to the Home Office?

Well funnily enough, the Home Office has a record of all your trips abroad (assuming you use airlines or ferries to travel rather than a rubber dingy across the Channel or whatever) and you can request a copy of this record and use the information therein to fill in your Home Office forms accurately. The Home Office only has records going back five years however so I presume (though I must emphasize I’m not an immigration lawyer) you can just fill in whatever you can remember for earlier years and the Home Office will have no way of checking the accuracy of what you fill in.

Obviously this is utterly bonkers, but if you are dealing with the Home Office you need to get used to bonkersness.

This is how we obtained our Home Office records using what’s called a “Subject Access Request” or “SAR”…….

The first thing to note is that, though the Home Office has a special form for SARs. You are under no obligation to use this form – which asks for all sorts of irrelevant information. Keep it simple and send them a letter simple letter!

We wrote as follows:

UKVI (Subject Access Request)
Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road
Croydon
CR9 2BY 
Dear Sir/Madam 
This is a Subject Access Request under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 
I am a  >nationality< citizen who has lived and worked in the UK since >date<. I am currently applying for a permanent residence card which requires me to list all my absences from the UK over the past years. 
Please could you supply all records you possess of my exits and entries from the UK since >date<. 
Yours faithfully 
>name< 
I enclose copies of my passports and driving licence and personal details. Please advise whether any fees are required in connection with this SAR.

NB the fee is a £10 cheque of postal order payable to The Home Office Accounting Office but (as will be made clear below) it is probably best not to bother with this at this stage.
The “personal details” we included were:

Name
Previous name
Date of birth
Place of birth
Date of Marriage to >spouse name<
Current UK address
Previous UK addresses
Phone
Email
Port of original entry to UK
Date of original entry to UK

This list reflected our circumstances and included things I could see on the Home Office SAR form that seemed potentially relevant. There is no hard and fast rule about what you need to tell them but they need to be able to identify you.

We also included photocopies of my wife’s birth certificate, driving licence, and all the passports she has used since coming to live in the UK. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here but at least one photo id is pretty much essential.

Once the Home Office have your SAR, they will then set about trying to think of reasons to turn it down (which is why there is no real point in paying them until you hear from them again). In our case they asked (expectedly) for a £10 cheque and (unexpectedly) for “certification” of the photo id copies we had supplied:



Now I don’t know about you, but I find the (implied) suggestion here – that a fraudster might have got hold of all my wife’s personal details and copies of all her passports and driving licence and birth certificate and might be using them (rather than to empty her bank account) to fool the Home Office into sending a list of dates to an address which the Home Office knows is ours – ever so slightly bonkers. Indeed, I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that the Home Office are being deliberately vexatious.

I decided I should report the Home Office to the Office of The information Commissioner for non-compliance with section 7 of the Data Protection Act. I filled in the relevant form; attached copies of all the material we had sent to the Home Office, and sent the following covering email:

Dear Sir/Madam 
This concerns a simple SAR for information that the Home Office hold on my wife’s movements in and out of the country over the past 31 years. The Home Office have this information because it is automatically sent to them by the airlines and ferry companies. My wife needs this information because the Home Office require her to provide it when she fills in a form for a residency permit. 
This information is not especially sensitive and would only ever be of use to someone applying for residency – at which point they have to appear in person and produce a passport. 
My wife provided copies of her driving licence, birth certificate and 5 passports and a great deal of personal details. It is preposterous of the Home Office to demand that she obtain the signature of a *solicitor* for these copies before they will process her request. This is more onerous than the requirements for obtaining a driving licence or passport in the first place. The Home Office appears to be behaving in an entirely vexatious and obstructive fashion here. If such practice were adopted generally, SAR would become a right in name only. 
The home Office have also requested a fee – which is fine. But I object to their insistence on resending the whole request rather than simply the cheque for the fee.
I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you can persuade the Home Office to start behaving in more reasonable fashion. 
etc

It seems that the Office of the Information Commissioner is, as I write, dealing with a backlog of complaints about the Home Office and is currently dealing with complaints submitted up to 2017 January 16 - three days before mine was submitted.

As ever, I shall report any outcome below.

Meanwhile we thought we had better find a solicitor and try resubmitting our SAR. At least the Home Office had now supplied a list of requirements that it would be difficult for them to go back on; and fortunately for us, we happen to have a good friend (of over twenty years' standing) who is a solicitor. It “cost” me only a bottle of wine (though a rather good one L) to cover our copies in signatures and rubber stamps that looked sufficiently impressive to intimidate the Home Office into submission.

I dread to think how much a solicitor charging commercial rates would charge for such a service.

We resubmitted out SAR and a cheque for £10:

Andrew Smith
Head of Subject Access Request Unit
Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road
Croydon
CR9 2BY
 Dear Mr Smith 
This is a Subject Access Request under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 
Thank you for your letter of January 16. 
I enclose solicitor-certified copies of my driving licence and passport and a cheque for £10 payable to “The Home Office Accounting Officer”. I also enclose copies of my birth certificate, former passports, and personal details. 
I trust you will now proceed with my SAR. 
To recap: 
I am a German citizen who has lived and worked in the UK since 1985. I am currently applying for a permanent residence card which requires me to list all my absences from the UK over the past thirty-one years. 
Please could you supply all records you possess of my exits and entries from the UK since August 1985. 
Yours sincerely etc
This time around, the Home Office deigned to comply with our request (and the law of the land):




And, just recently, we received our list of dates. (I am not sure why they put “File Copy” across these pages. Perhaps they want to give the impression that they keep the original pages in a drawer somewhere and have made photocopies specially to send to us? I consider it more likely that these pages were generated by someone clicking something on a computer.):





This list goes back only five years, so does not include my wife’s initial entry to the UK, and has her entering the UK two times more than she left the UK. It also records her nationality variously as German, Danish, and British. Otherwise the details seem to be correct – though how complete they are is hard to say. We travel a lot and don’t really keep our own records (though we are well within the days-away-per-year allowed to foreign residents by the Home Office).

At the end was some more general information about the data held by the Home Office:



So there you have it. We now know exactly what data the Home Office hold on us and we also know to keep records of all our trips abroad in future, just in case the UK government introduce even more draconian rules to control the movements of EU citizens. They certainly seem to be planning this.

If you need to know what the Home Office knows about your travel dates so that you can fill in their forms without fear of entering any data that conflicts with what they think they know, you will (as things stand) just have to bite the bullet and fork out lots of money for a solicitor to validate your documents. I hope, however (whether or not you currently need these dates), you will follow my suggestions below:

I have fought minor battles with bureaucracies all my life. I never give in and I never give up. I have won every single time. The UK Government has declared war on three million people and their families. It is essential we all win and that they lose.

I’m going to mix my metaphors a bit now, but I hope you’ll forgive me …………

All bureaucracies have an Achilles heel: The spikes in the pits they place in your way can be picked out and used as weapons to throw back at them and ultimately defeat them. And the more spiked-pits they place in front of you, the more spikes you can acquire.

And the pen is even mightier than the sword (which is a kind of spike).

Doing the following will do more good that writing to the newspapers or to your MP or fulminating on FaceBook and Twitter.

Write to the Subject Access Request Unit at, Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon, CR9 2BY requesting the data they hold on your trips abroad. This will cost you a few minutes and the price of a stamp. Do this now!

When they refuse your Subject Access Request (they will) fill in the form at https://ico.org.uk/media/report-a-concern/forms/1466/access-personal-information-form.pdf and send it to casework@ico.org.uk with a covering letter complaining that the Home Office are in breach of section 7 of the Data Protection Act. This will cost you nothing.

If thousands of us do this, I guarantee that the Home Office will, sooner or later, quietly drop its insistence that we employ expensive solicitors before submitting an SAR. If we keep up the fight, with luck, they will also drop the insistence on providing travel dates for all EU citizens in all circumstances. And when we win these battles you will have made life significantly easier for millions of your fellow human beings.

Pick up your pens/keyboards now and enter the fray!

#####

And now I've finally heard from the Office of the Information Commissioner:

from: casework@ico.org.uk11th March 2017 


Dear Dr Ward 
Thank you for raising concerns about the Home Office. 
 I understand that you have concerns about the ID requirements imposed by UKVI when it receives a subject access request (“SAR”). 
In this case, it appears that adequate certification has not been provided and has therefore UKVI will not process Karin XXXXXXXXXXX's SAR. 
 I can confirm that UKVI has now agreed to accept photo certification for SARs from; Solicitors, barristers, legal executives, registered charities and OISC registered representatives. The photo ID requirement will also be waived if the subject is in detention and UKVI can verify this from its records. 
 This change in policy has come about following the ICO’s engagement with UKVI on this matter. We understand that you believe that asking for a certified ID is excessive in the circumstances but this is UKVI's policy unless the above applies. 
We would advise that certified ID is still a requirement but as stated above it does not now necessarily have to be a solicitor that verifies the ID (see above). 
Therefore, you should now write to UKVI with a verified copy of ID in order to progress the SAR. There are no further actions for us to take on this occasion. 
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. 
Yours sincerely
etc

So the easiest way to obtain a list of your trips abroad from the Home Office seems to be to get yourself locked up in a detention centre.

I have launched an appeal with the Office of the Information Commissioner arguing that they have let the Home Office off the hook far too easily. I repeated my point that it is utterly unreasonable of the Home Office to insist on copy certification requirements that are far more onerous than the requirements for obtaining the original documents whose copies are being certified.

....and here's the reply:

Dear Dr Ward 
I am writing further to your case review and service complaint correspondence of 21 March 2017.  
This relates to the data protection concern submitted to the Information Commissioner’s Office (the “ICO”) about UK Visas and Immigration (“UKVI”), which is part of the Home Office. 
Please find enclosed a leaflet which explains how we handle requests for a case review.
The original concern raised with us refers to what you consider are the excessive proof of identity requirements insisted on by UKVI for processing subject access requests under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). Joanna Hoof, the investigating officer, informed you that the ICO had previously engaged with UKVI on an earlier set of conditions imposed and it had been agreed that the rules should be made more accommodating. Under the terms of the agreed policy however your wife would still be required to provide further information and Ms Hoof recommended that your wife supply a verified copy of identification in order to progress the subject access request. 
I understand you remain of the view that UKVI’s requirements are disproportionate and unnecessarily onerous. [my emphasis] On this basis, you have asked us to reconsider our position on this particular case. 
Under the DPA a data controller is entitled to ask for enough information to judge whether the person making the request is the individual to who the personal data relates. As you acknowledge, the use of this mechanism may be an important safeguard for preventing personal data about one individual being sent to another. The key point though is that a data controller must be reasonable about what is asked for. The data controller should not, for example, request lots more information where there is already an ongoing relationship with the individual. 
A policy produced by a data controller which details the conditions for processing subject access requests should be tailored to reflect the nature of the information that is being handled. UKVI will regularly deal with information of a particularly sensitive nature and this is reflected in the strictness of its policy. We accept that as the custodian of confidential personal data it is appropriate for UKVI to have a policy in place which sets out clearly the criteria for dealing with subject access requests. For our purposes however, the demands of the policy should not be such so as to prevent an individual from being able to exercise their access rights in the DPA. 
We consider that the current version of UKVI’s policy, which evolved from changes made in the light of our advice, is generally successful in balancing the rights of the data subject with the need for ensuring there is adequate protection for personal data. I can fully appreciate why you would believe that UKVI’s arrangements are not suitable for your wife’s particular situation. [my emphasis] Yet, in our view it is not only essential UKVI has a robust policy in place but that furthermore, in the interests of fairness, this policy is applied as consistently as possible.[1] For this reason, I am satisfied that Ms Hoof gave you the correct advice. 
A case review is the final stage of the ICO’s case handling process. However, I appreciate that you may disagree with the assessment and our case review. If you remain dissatisfied the enclosed leaflet outlines the options available to you. 
Yours sincerely etc
[1] I have since discovered the the Home Office has a "fast track" system for dealing with SARs that does not involve certification of ID copies so all talk of "robustness" and "consistency" here is entirely misplaced.

My translation:

"We kind of agree the the Home Office are just being arseholes here but their obduracy is not quite extreme enough for us to consider taking legal action against them so we're going to continue letting them break the spirit of the law."

Ombudsman here we go. 

2017-02-17

The question for every EU citizen resident in the UK: ”Should I stay or should I go?”

(And will I have a choice?)



On February 8 MPs dealt a further post-Brexit-referendum blow to three million EU citizens resident in the UK and voted 332 to 290 against granting such citizens the right to remain[1]. It later transpired that one of the reasons Home Secretary Amber Rudd was able to secure such a convincing majority was that she had circulated a letter to Tory back-benchers two days before the vote reassuring them that there was “absolutely no question of treating EU citizens with anything other than the utmost respect”. Of course, since the Brexit vote, many EU citizens in the UK feel that they are being treated with a great deal of disrespect. Perhaps a more important issue for them, however, is how worried they should now feel about their status here.

In her letter, Amber Rudd reprises the claim that the plight of EU citizens here is somehow the fault of the EU:

“The Government remains committed to providing reassurance to EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU as a priority once Article 50 has been triggered. The hold-up is less an issue of principle than one of timing with a few EU countries insisting there can be ‘no negotiation before notification’, and therefore that nothing can be settled until Article 50 is triggered.”

Coming at this from the opposite point of view, The European Council President Donald Tusk has opined that the “only source of anxiety and uncertainty [for the UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories] is [...] the decision on Brexit”. It is, he argues, our “rejection of the free movement of people and all the rights it entails” that will, by default, abolish the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens in the EU.

But regardless of how blame might be most appropriately apportioned, there would seem to be some fundamental misunderstandings concerning the symmetry of the UK’s relationship with the EU and its members. By and large, the EU has no say in how non-EU citizens are treated in member states[2]. After all, how we deal with, say, Australians here in the UK has always been a matter for our government and the Australian government. So the notion that there could be a simple reciprocal deal between the EU and the UK over this issue is quite misguided.

Moreover, the rights that EU citizens currently enjoy throughout the EU are wide-ranging and complex. They involve health-care, and pensions, and travel, and family members who may or may not be EU citizens themselves, and benefits, and education. There are no simple decisions to be made over what exactly we want existing UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK to retain; or even over how we define “living in”.

While the EU cannot negotiate on behalf of its members when it comes to the specific residency rights of their UK inhabitants, it is clear that there are many aspects of the UK’s post Brexit relationship with the EU that have implications for those residents. It is often claimed that Germany’s Angela Merkel bears particular responsibility for the EU’s refusal to discuss any of this prior to our triggering of Article 50 but the German chancellor’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer has insisted that there is “complete unanimity [among the remaining 27] that there can be no pre-negotiations with Great Britain before notification”.

Pace Amber Rudd’s acknowledgement of MP’s concerns about how long this might take to resolve, the UK’s decision to tie this issue to Brexit negotiations with the EU, and with its 27 individual members, risks delaying any resolution for months or years. In this context, it is perhaps understandable that the EU were wary of open-ended “pre-negotiations” and insisted on definite start and end dates.

So how worried should EU citizens be about their future in the UK?

As the UK Home Office puts it: “EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least 5 years automatically have a permanent right to reside” and it has been estimated that about 84% of EU citizens currently living in the UK already meet this criterion or will have met it by the time we leave. This seems to imply that the whole issue is a bit of a storm in a tea-cup. But,as is often the case when it comes to Brexit, things are a bit more complicated than they seem at first sight.

Post Brexit there will have to be some way of distinguishing between EU citizens in the UK who have continuing rights to live and work here and those who do not. Those citizens will need to be issued with papers – i.e.  “Permanent Residency Documents” - that evidence such rights; and they will need to be issued with those papers within two years or at least before whatever date is chosen for the ending for freedom of movement.

While the numbers of EU citizens in the UK applying for permanent residency documents from the Home Office has increased significantly, this only represents a small proportion of the millions who are (notionally) eligible. The Kafkaesque nature of the Home Office’s procedures and its treatment of applicants may be putting many off. Others seem to be seeking refuge in Micawberism. After all, as even the fiercely pro-Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg has put it, “The idea that [the Home Office] can deport three million people is bonkers”. What Rees-Mogg seems not to realize is that deportation is not really the fear. If EU citizens lose their rights to work and receive health care and re-enter the country and hold a driving licence and maintain a bank account, unless they can furnish the correct papers, they will have to leave - at least those whose lives involve things like national insurance numbers and paying tax. I suppose that many of the hundreds of thousands working in the UK’s large black economy and the destitute may simply carry on living here until they get caught. Below the radar, the UK is already interning and deporting thousands of EU nationals it considers unfit to be here.

And even among those that do apply to the UK Home Office have their situation in the UK regularized, about 34% are being turned down – some then being ordered, for good measure, to pack up and leave the UK. One reason for refusal seems to be failure or inability to provide documentation sufficient to satisfy the Home Office’s draconian rules. More worryingly, many are being turned down for failure to provide evidence of “Comprehensive Medical Insurance”. This is a mind bogglingly complex area of law and, according to the EU, the Home Office is in breach of the law when it insists, retrospectively, that some categories of UK residents who have been legally using NHS services all their lives require evidence of health insurance before they can apply for residency. This is, however, exactly what the Home Office is insisting on.

Although the Home Office has made some concessions recently in reducing the complexity of the application process, the accompanying guidance for the new forms contains a chilling new entry:

“Scenario 3:
Colette, a Belgian citizen, came to the UK for a holiday in August 2003 but then remained without permission or entitlement under community law. Any residence in the UK after her entitlement under community law came to an end was residence in breach of the immigration laws.”

In other words, there are many EU citizens exercising their right to free movement here in blissful ignorance of the fact that our Home Office now considers their presence not just unwelcome but unlawful. Residence in breach of the immigration laws can land you in prison.

Since public hostility and bureaucratic malice towards UK citizens in other EU countries is rare and the process (at least judging from the impressions given to me by friends living abroad) for obtaining residency permits is cheap and straightforward, it could be argued that the EU has already made the concessions towards UK citizens that we intend to wring from them in our negotiations. Nonetheless we are now entering those negotiations armed with a threat to strip EU citizens living here of rights we already deny to more than a third of those who claim them.

If this threat is empty, why do we insist, in Parliament, that we need to make it as the opening gambit in our negotiations?

Amber Rudd’s letter seems to claim, in contradictory passages, both that the fate of EU citizens in the UK is contingent on the success of our negotiations with the EU and that it is in the gift of Parliament. Only one of these claims can possibly by true. Even if the latter is true, our MPs have shown few signs that they are losing sleep over this question.

Without wishing to sound alarmist, I think it would be extremely prudent for any EU citizens currently resident in the UK to apply as soon as possible for permanent residency and to begin making contingency plans for leaving – just in case. Even if leaving the UK is never actually mandated by the Home Office or remaining is never actually made truly impossible, leaving may become the only way to preserve rights, prosperity, and dignity.


[1] The House of Lords have now reversed this decision but I think we can assume that the House of Commons will reverse this reversal.


[2] Having spoken (via the medium of Twitter) to some people who understand matters far better than I do (including Steve Peers - @StevePeers Professor of EU, Human Rights and World Trade Law at the University of Essex) I have realized that this issue is more complex than I initially thought. Everything about Brexit is more complex than one initially thinks. It is true (as I say above) that individual EU state generally decide what happens to non EU citizens within their own borders, with the caveat (also made above) that many EU-wide laws (laws on travel arrangements for family members springs to mind here) have implications for happens to non EU citizens within individual states. But there are even more caveats it seems! Without going into lots of detail (which I don't even pretend to fully understand myself) we can simply note that the EU can impose whatever it likes on its members providing there is a unanimous vote in favour of doing so. It is - pace my remarks above - possible that qualified majority voting could (in some circumstances - perhaps including the circumstances of the Article 50 negotiations) impose certain new obligations on EU members with respect to their non EU residents. Nobody knows for certain as these issues have never come up before.
    In spite of these new caveats, I still insist that that there is no simple symmetry between the UK's laws on its EU residents and the EU's laws on its UK residents; and I still insist that it is morally reprehensible to threaten (whatever the "other side" may do) to expel people (and thus their close family members) who came here legally and in good faith.

2017-01-23

Germany is Responsible for the Plight of EU Families in the UK (and other alternative-facts from the Brexit camp)

One of the Brexiters' favourite memes at the moment (oft repeated in the press) is the one that lays blame for the fear and uncertainly being suffered by EU citizens living in the UK at Angela Merkel's door. Take this recent tweet I received - after complaining that the UK Government were threatening to deport my wife (which, at the moment, they still are):

First of all, it should be pointed out, the EU has very little control over how individual EU countries deal with their non-EU residents. For example, the UK's arrangements for Australians or Pakistanis who wish to come here and reside here are very much our affair not the EU's. So a "reciprocal" deal between the UK and the EU, in the way May talks about this, simply is not possible.

It is the UK who has decided to strip its own citizens of their EU citizenship and EU citizens of their rights in the UK; so the current predicament is entirely of our making. We cannot somehow shift the responsibility to the EU.

It is true that May offered to discuss this, not to "settle" it, before submitting Article 50. Who knows whether there will be an agreement on this with all 27 countries or how long such agreements might take? But the suggestion that there might be "pre-discussions" (about anything) before submitting Article 50 was rejected not by Germany but by all 27 countries unanimously - and they don't agree on very much unanimously these days. For obvious reasons, the rest of the EU want to stick to a firm timetable.

Moreover, there are other problems with the notion of negotiating "reciprocal arrangements" with the EU. There is no symmetry between the distribution of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe. Quite how the Home Office, or the UK’s EU negotiating team, imagine that their threat to deport Germans (like my wife) will dissuade (say) the Spanish from deporting their large collection of UK pensioners (perhaps in a fit of pique over Gibraltar) is never made clear.

Sadly, the UK is not the only country in the EU which now has a right-wing nationalist and isolationist government in power. Hungary and Poland have taken similar directions and an even more lunatic and xenophobic party is on the ascendancy in France. It is by no means entirely beyond the cards that some other EU countries might, one day, start expelling British Citizens. We do not have to invoke Godwin's law and go back before 1945 to find examples of war, dictatorship, and ethnic cleansing in Europe.

Think about the position of our own Government! It is saying that if other countries refuse to allow UK citizens to remain once we are no longer in the EU (which would also, of course, be abhorrent) we shall retaliate by expelling law-abiding EU families - who came here legally and in good faith - from the UK. Such retaliation would be morally reprehensible - whether the citizens in question were originally from a country expelling our citizens or originally from a third country.

And even to threaten such a thing is morally reprehensible.

While many EU leaders are doing their best to try and make it possible for UK citizens to acquire some kind of "associate" EU citizenship post-Brexit (though this very well might not happen - it's complicated) the UK is going out of its way to make life for its EU citizens as difficult as possible.

The UK, for practical and political reasons, and for reasons af basic human decency needs to unilaterally guarantee the rights of its EU citizens living here; and it needs to do it now.

2017-01-19

Sorry this is about the Home Office and Brexit again

STOP PRESS!

The Home Office have quietly changed their online PR application form (though not the paper form which many categories of  applicants are still obliged to use):

MANY EU CITIZENS NO LONGER NEED TO LIST EXITS FROM AND ENTRIES TO THE UK! 

The form is still riddled with errors. For example, if you say "yes" to the question as to whether you have "ever" received Child Benefit, you are then asked how much you are receiving. If you answer "£0", your answer is rejected. So, if you are not getting it now, you are forced to go back and lie and say you have never received Child Benefit. And there are many such problems with the form. But the onerous, spiteful, and impossible-to-comply-with requirement to list your trips away from the UK is no more.

I wonder where this decision came from?

For even more background see: EU citizens in the UK are already facing Home Office threats
The background to this post:
EU citizens (such as my German wife - who has lived and worked here for 31 years) who wish to apply for UK citizenship or guarantee that they won't be expelled from the UK post-Brexit have to obtain a "Residency Permit" from the Home Office. The relevant 85 page form asks (inter alia) for a list of every date of departure and date of return for every trip away the UK since the applicant entered the UK.
5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?

Yes/No

If yes, please give details in the tables below. Continue on a separate sheet if necessary and enclose with your application.
The kind people at the Home Office have now conceded that "only" five years of entry and exit dates are required (though they have not corrected their form). But I did not know this originally (I took what it said on the form at face value - silly me) so I thought I should write to them and ask about this:
To: nationalityenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

Dear Sir/Madam

My wife of 31 years is a German citizen and has lived with me (and worked) in the UK since 1985.

Our understanding is that, in order to apply for UK citizenship, my wife will first need to apply for a residency card.

The form for applying to UK citizenship asks her to list all trips away from the UK for the past 3 years (again as we understand the form) but the application from for a residency permit seems to require us to list all trips for the past 31 years.

Please could you confirm whether this is really the case. Does my wife really have to try and remember every single trip she has made since she came to live in the UK or will her trips over the qualifying period (3 or 5 years) suffice?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
I received an automated reply:
From: NationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

IMPORTANT - PLEASE READ THIS MESSAGE AS THE INFORMATION YOU REQUIRE MAY BE GIVEN BELOW. YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE ANOTHER RESPONSE

RTFM [I paraphrase]

What should I do if I have a different nationality related enquiry that has not been covered by this message or by the website links provided? You should call our Contact Centre on 0300 123 2253 or email us at: FurtherNationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk (you should provide your name, date of birth, place of birth, current nationality, immigration status and Home Office Reference number where known. A telephone number should also be provided so that we may contact you. We aim to respond to your enquiry within 20 working days.
Since I had "read the ******* manual" I wrote again:
To: FurtherNationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

My wife of 31 years is a German citizen and has lived with me (and worked) in the UK since 1985.

Our understanding is that, in order to apply for UK citizenship, my wife will first need to apply for a residency card.

The form for applying to UK citizenship asks her to list all trips away from the UK for the past 3 years (again as we understand the form) but the application from for a residency permit seems to require us to list all trips for the past 31 years.

Please could you confirm whether this is really the case. Does my wife really have to try and remember every single trip she has made since she came to live in the UK or will her trips over the qualifying period (3 or 5 years) suffice?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And received the following gracious reply:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-12

Dear Dr Ward

Thank you for your email correspondence of 6 January.

Please note, the onus is upon the individual customers to ensure that they satisfy the requirements set out in the guidance material that accompanies each and every application form. Therefore, you are advised to read through the guidance prior to submitting a future application.

If after reading the application guidance you are still unsure as to the requirements for the application you wish to submit you should seek independent immigration advice.

Immigration advisers can help you with immigration matters, including completion of forms and representing you at a tribunal. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) regulates immigration advisers, which means they must meet certain standards.

Please see the link below to find an immigration advisor:

https://www.gov.uk/find-an-immigration-adviser

We are unable to advise you any further on your enquiry.

Yours sincerely

XXX
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
I was disinclined to let this pass:
To: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-12

Dear Ms XXX

Thank you for your email.

I have read the guidance material in depth. It is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory.

I asked a simple specific question. A simple answer to this question and a clarification on your website would make life much easier for three million EU citizens living in the UK and for your own officials who have to deal with applications from EU citizens.

I find your email discourteous and insulting.

Please could you advise me as to your complaints procedure.

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward
And received another reply:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-13

Dear Dr Ward

Thank you for your email correspondence of 12 January.

Please refer to the link below for information on how to make a complaint:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about/complaints-procedure

I hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely

YYY
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
So I thought I'd submit a complaint:
To: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-13

Dear Sir/Madam

[I reproduced the correspondence above and then said:]

This experience has prompted me to write to you. I have a number of concerns:


  1. The information on your website for people in our situation is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory. It should be improved.
  2. When people write to you pointing out problems with the information on your website, this should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt.
  3. I see no justification for your refusal to answer the simple question I raised. A simple answer would help me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if you clarified your website), and your own staff.
  4. Even if, for some reason, it is not possible for you to answer a question from a member of the public, I do not understand why you cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone.
I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And duly received a charming response to my complaint ... which didn't address anything in my complaint but which provided an answer the the question I'd asked in the first place:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk [sic] 2017-01-18

Dear Sir [sic]

Thank you for your reply of 13 January.

If your wife is required to apply for permanent residency before applying for British citizenship, the qualifying period for a permanent residence card is 5 years under the EEA regulations. Therefore information regarding absences is only required for the qualifying period.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-document-certifying-permanent-residence-or-permanent-residence-card-form-eea-pr

Please note that as the onus is upon the individual customers to ensure that they satisfy the requirements set out in the guidance material that accompanies each and every application form, the UK Visas and Immigration is not able to give, indicate or advise upon the outcome of any such application prior to it being given full and careful consideration. Therefore, you are advised to read through the guidance prior to submitting a future application.

We are unable to advise you any further on your enquiry and you should seek immigration advice if you need help with permission to stay in the UK. Immigration advisers can help you with immigration matters, including completion of forms and representing you at a tribunal. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) regulates immigration advisers, which means they must meet certain standards.

Please see the link below to find an immigration advisor:

https://www.gov.uk/find-an-immigration-adviser

I hope this clarifies the matter.

Yours faithfully

ZZZ
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
I tried again:
To: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk CC: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-18

Dear ZZZ

While this is a response, of sorts, to my original question – a response which you initially refused to provide - it is not a response to my *complaint* (please see points 1-4) below. Since I have received an unsatisfactory response to my complaint, I should now like to escalate my complaint. I note that https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553890/Complaints_Management_Guidance_September_2016.pdf Section 7.1 states:

“When any verbal or written response to the complaint is provided, the complainant must be informed about how they can take forward their complaint if they are not satisfied with the reply. SOPs include templates and standard paragraphs containing the prescribed wording.”

So you are in breach of your own rules here. I now look forward to a review of my original complaint by someone at Grade 6 or above [you see I've been RTFM!]

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward
For once they got straight back to me (though obviously without reading anything I'd written to them first):
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk [sic - not, I note, from complaints] 2017-01-18

Dear Sir [sic - they do know my name and I haven't been knighted yet]

Thank you for your further reply of 18 January.

Please refer to the following link regarding the complaints procedure. [...errrrmmm are we not going round in circles a bit here?]

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about/complaints-procedure

I am sorry I am unable to assist further. [further?]

Yours faithfully

ZZZ
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
So I've tried to escalate matters:
To: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-18

Dear Sir/Madam

I should like to add the behaviour of Ms ZZZ (please see below) to my escalated complaint.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward

[record of correspondence so far]
I have just received a reply. Needless to say, my complaint was not upheld.
From: lsecsu@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-27

Thank you for your email correspondence of 18 January, where you have raised a complaint about the handling of your enquiry of 13 January.

I have assessed the circumstances relating to the matter you have complained about. With this work now complete, I have based my response on my findings. I am not upholding your complaint and I hope my reply helps you to understand the reasons why.

You have expressed your dissatisfaction at the misleading information on our website and have asked for it to be improved. You also say that you have received an unsatisfactory response to your complaint asking if your wife needed to apply for permanent residency before she could apply for British citizenship. You have requested that we escalate your complaint as you feel we are in breach of our own rules.
I am sorry to hear of your experience in using the website, we find customer feedback valuable in order to improve the services provided and your comments have been forwarded on. Further feedback can be provided via the following website address: www.gov.uk/contact/govuk

Our records shows your email dated 13 January about the advice you received from the Nationality Enquiries Team was forwarded to General Immigration Enquiries who are not part of the Complaints Team. They replied to your email on 18 January. I am sorry if you were dissatisfied with the information provided.

[more information about recruiting an immigration adviser]
I am now escalating my complaint to complaintsreview@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk - this is clearly going to the Ombudsman
Dear Sir/Madam

I write to request a review of my complaint CMS Reference: 131-137272.

I should like a review because you have not addressed any of the complaints I made.

NB I did not escalate my complaint because I felt you were in breach of your own rules. I escalated my complaint because the original response I received was unsatisfactory. Your response was also in breach of your own rules, but that was not the reason I found it unsatisfactory. I found it unsatisfactory because it did not address my complaint.

My original complaints were that:


  1. The information on your website for people in our situation is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory. It should be improved.
  2. When people write to you pointing out problems with the information on your website, this should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt.
  3. I see no justification for your refusal to answer the simple question I raised. A simple answer would help me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if you clarified your website), and your own staff.
  4. Even if, for some reason, it is not possible for you to answer a question from a member of the public, I do not understand why you cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone.
To which I added a specific complaint about ZZZ’s rudeness towards me in her responses to my original complaint.

My reasons for asking for a review are as follows:


  • You still have not corrected your form which still asks “Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?” [5.3];
  • you have not apologized for the behaviour of your staff (in initially refusing to answer a simple question);
  • you have not apologized for the rude and hostile tone of you staff in all their correspondence with me; and
  • you have not given any indication that you would expect your staff to behave in a different fashion in future.
I look forward to your response

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And since the Home Office have now confirmed to me twice in writing that the wording of the form is incorrect, I though I should take up the suggestion that I provide feedback "via the following website address: www.gov.uk/contact/govuk":
I submitted the following message on 2017-01-27

At 5.3 the form states:

5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?

Yes No

If yes, please give details in the tables below. Continue on a separate sheet if necessary and enclose with your application.

It should say

5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK during the five-year qualifying period?

(at least according to the letter I received form Robert Goodwill MP - the Immigration Minister)

The online version of this form has the same error. Please could you correct it ASAP as this is causing a lot of confusion and distress for EU citizens applying for proof of residency.

I have just received a reply.
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-01-31

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

Thank you for your message. Unfortunately the GOV.UK support team can not provide direct advice on visas, application process/timeframes, immigration or general guidance.

You must contact the UK Visas and Immigration team (UKVI) directly for advice:

- https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi/visas-and-settlement

[lots of other URLS]

Kind regards

DDD

GOV.UK

Government Digital Service

I have, of course, responded (I'm a stubborn old bugger):
2017-01-31

Dear Ms DDD

Thank you for your email, but you seem to have misunderstood my message to you.

I do not require any advice on visas, application process/timeframes, immigration or general guidance.

I simply wanted to draw you attention to an error on your website.

When I drew this error to the attention of UK Visas and Immigration team, they suggested I got in touch with you. I understood them to be saying that correcting the website is your responsibility not theirs.

Please could you correct the forms on your website. You can confirm that this is an error by speaking to UKVI or to Robert Goodwill MP.

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward

Another reply
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-02-03

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

Your feedback has been passed on to the team at the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) who manage this material. They will review your comments, but will only be able to deal with your query if it relates to an error with the website or its content.

In the meantime your original query with GOV.UK will now be closed.

Best wishes

I got straight back
2017-02-03

Dear Ms DDD

My query does relate to an error with the website and its contents.

I have already been in touch with UKVI. They put me in touch with you.

I do not understand why you are being so difficult about this. Why not simply correct the error?

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward

And, to DDD's credit she got straight back to me:
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-02-03

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

You were previously told incorrect information. GOV.UK cannot advise.

The content you are querying in the PDF guidance is managed and owned by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). I have to pass over to them for them to reply to you directly.

Best wishes

I rather doubt I shall hear back from UKVI regarding the incorrect form, but I do expect a response to my complaint review. When they reject it I shall take it to the Ombudsman.
And here we are:
From: LSECSU@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-02-20
Dear Dr Ward
Thank you for your further email correspondence of 27 January about the handling of your previous correspondence. I am conducting a review of your complaint following your further submissions.
Your complaint
You remain dissatisfied with the handling of your complaint. You say that our previous reply of 27 January did not fully address your concerns. You maintain that the response you received from Ms Zzz on 18 January was rude. You reiterate that we initially refused to answer a simple question about the requirements for your wife to qualify for permanent residency. You also say that your comments about the section relating to absences on the EEA (PR) application form have been ignored. You would like an apology for the reply received by Ms Zzz and an indication of expected staff behaviour in the future.
My decision
I should clarify that your email of 13 January, which you routed through our complaints email address, was not considered to meet with our definition of a complaint. It was therefore sent to our Public Enquiries team for reply. For this reason, Ms Zzz’s reply did not provide you with information on how you can escalate your enquiry should you remain dissatisfied.
Unfortunately, from looking at your email again, it is clear that this was a mistake on our part. Your correspondence was in relation to dissatisfaction with a previous reply you received from our Public Enquiries Team and it should have been handled through our internal complaints process. I am very sorry for this oversight.
However, Ms Zzz’s reply did provide you with the answer to your query. While I am sorry if you felt the rest of her reply was rude, we are not always able to provide specific answers in relation to an enquiry. Ms Zzz’s reply was explaining when we are unable to provide information. I am satisfied that her reply was not intentionally rude, however I have asked that the way this information is conveyed to the customer is looked at again.
I would like to thank you for highlighting that the information on the EEA (PR) application form is contradictory to what is contained on our website. Officials are already looking into this, and are also working to make the form more user-friendly and accessible to applicants. Feedback such as this does help us to improve our services.
In view of the above information, I am satisfied that your complaint on this matter is partially upheld. A reply to your enquiry was provided, although not through our complaints channel, and I am satisfied that Ms Zzz’s reply was not intentionally rude.
My response now concludes our internal complaint procedure but should you remain dissatisfied with this reply, you may raise the matter with Dame Julie Mellor, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (see her website: www.ombudsman.org.uk).
Yours sincerely
Nnnnn
Head of Performance and Customer Service
Even more conciliatory in tone - which is a big step in the right direction - but they still have not corrected their form and they're not going to and they are still going to carry on being beastly to anyone who has the audacity to question the instructions on their website. Onwards and upwards:
To: Ombudsmand via Naz Shah MP by snail-mail 2017-03-09


The details of your complaint

I complained that the information on the Home Office website for people in our situation was labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory and suggested it should be improved. (The final response from the Home Office does at least say that its officials are "looking into this".)

I also said that when people write to the Home Office pointing out problems with the information on its website such submissions should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt. (The final reponse from the Home Office partially concedes this point but offers no apology for the original response.)

I complained that there was no justification for the Home Office's initial refusal to answer the simple question I raised and pointed out that a simple answer would have helped me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if they clarified their website), and the Home Office's own staff. (The final response from the Home Office alludes to this point but does not address it.)

I concluded by suggesting that even if, for some reason, it is not possible for the Home Office to answer a question from a member of the public, I did not understand why they cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone. (Again, the final reponse from the Home Office alludes to this point but does not address it.)

I then added a specific complaint about Zzz’s rudeness towards me in her responses to my original complaint. (The final reponse from the Home Office devotes a lot of attention to this aspect of my complaint and acknowledges that the Home Office made a mistake but does not address the general problem - of which Ms Zzz's behaviour was merely a symptom.)

Did the organisation miss any of the issues you raised in your complaint?

The Home Office have still not corrected their form https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/505032/EEA_PR__03-16.pdf which asks “Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had *any* absences from the UK since you/they entered?” [5.3] and asks applicants to list them all.

The Home Office have still not apologized for the behaviour of their staff (in initially refusing to answer a simple question);

The Home Office have still not apologized for the generally hostile and antagonisitc tone of their staff in all their correspondence with me; and

The Home Office have still not given any firm indication that they would expect their staff to behave in a different fashion in future.

How have you, or the person you represent, been affected by what has happened?

My wife and I, already very upset by the uncertainly over our future which Brexit has caused were extremely distressed by the hostile and antagonisitic attitude of the Home Office and their refusal/failure to correct incorrect and misleading information on their web site.

If we are able to take on your compalint, what are you hoing we can achieve?

A correction to the instructions on form https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/505032/EEA_PR__03-16.pdf which states that only five years of entry and exit dates are required.

A genuine apology for the hostile and antagonistic tone of Home Office immigration and visa staff and assurances that the Home Office will adopt a less hostile and antaognistic stance in future.
Reading the Home Office's Complaints guidance for UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force I note that
  • Incivility.
  • Brusqueness.
  • Isolated instances of bad language.
  • An officer’s refusal to identify themselves when asked. [and]
  • Poor attitude, for example, being unhelpful, inattentive or obstructive.
are all considered "minor misconduct complaints" and are "complaints about the professional conduct of IBD staff [...] which are not serious enough to warrant a formal investigation". If such complaints are substantiated "they would not normally lead to discipline (misconduct) proceedings". So I'm not holding out much hope of getting a reasonable - or even remotely civil - response to my complaint. But we shall see.
Watch this space for any further developments!