A 95-year-old Italian man who has been in the UK for 68 years has been asked to prove he is resident in the country by the Home Office in order to remain after Brexit, despite receiving the state pension for the past 32 years.
Antonio Finelli came to the country in 1952 when he answered an appeal for immigrant labour as part of the reconstruction effort after the second world war ended.
He was welcomed with one week’s advance wages and a sandwich when he arrived at Folkestone harbour, but almost 70 years later says he has been forced to supply 80 pages of bank statements to prove his right to stay in the UK.
He was asked for proof that he had been in the country for five consecutive years when he applied for the EU settlement scheme, but the Home Office app said it could not find any record of him.
“It is wrong,” he said as he waited for volunteers’ help at an advice centre in Islington, north London. His wife and only son have died and he is also worried about his grandchildren. “Will they be OK?” he asked the volunteer.
“It was a surprise because I have had the aliens’ certificate,” he said referring to the document given to immigrants who came to the country between 1918 and 1957.
“I’ve been receiving the pension and working all my life so I don’t understand why I have to provide these bank statements,” he said.
Finelli’s case highlights concerns over stress and anxiety being caused to elderly and vulnerable people, many of whom do not understand why they are being asked for paperwork at this stage of their lives.
Dimitri Scarlato, a volunteer at Inca CGIL, an advice centre for Italian citizens, said he has had one woman in the centre who was so stressed out about having to find paperwork she “thought she was going to have a heart attack”.
“What I find unacceptable is that Mr Finelli has been living here for 70 years. He has been here all his life. He worked for 40 years and [after] 32 years received his pension. He is a good fellow, a good citizen and came before freedom of movement, [but] still has the burden of providing proof of residence.
“He has been here all these years but the system treats him as if he doesn’t exist. Why?” said Scarlato.
Finelli is the second case in a week of elderly EU citizens struggling with the settled status application which all EU and EEA citizens need to complete in order to stay in the UK after June next year.
Last week it emerged that a 101-year-old, Giovanni Palmiero, who coincidentally knew Finelli as a child in Italy, had been told to get his parents to apply on his behalf because the Home Office system thought he was a one-year-old.
Scarlato fears that the problem may be much bigger and affects tens of thousands of pensioners if DWP records are not all digitised.
“We think this is because the DWP records are not digitised. We have tried to raise this with the Home Office because we are seeing many elderly people come in whose records cannot be found,” said Scarlato.
He says he has had more than 100 applications where records cannot be found.
“I’ve processed around 500 applications and half of them are for elderly people. Half these people have not been found by the system and it asks them to prove their residency even though the DWP has been sending out pensions and have been here since the 1950s and 1960s.
“Imagine an elderly person who doesn’t have his name on any bill and has no proof of residence and they have been here all these years and they get to their 80s and 90s and are asked to prove they have been here for five years.
“Mr Finelli will be fine because he has come to the centre, but what if you are living alone and vulnerable or in the middle of nowhere and don’t know where to go?” said Scarlato.
Alberto Costa, a Tory MP and longtime champion of EU citizens, said he had in the past repeatedly “raised with ministers the expected problem with digital records for vulnerable and elderly people who may need to prove their residence even though they have been here for 50 to 60 years”.
The Home Office said applicants’ HMRC and DWP records were automatically matched when EU citizens applied for settled status when it launched the computer and phone app last March.
The Guardian asked the Home Office if there was a digitisation problem with pension records but it declined to answer the specific question.
“Automated checks mean that the vast majority of applicants don’t have to provide additional evidence, but when it’s needed there is a vast range of evidence people can submit, including doctor’s notes, payslips and letters from charities,” it said.
It said “the system checks HMRC and DWP records to see if it can confirm how long someone has been in the UK” and in testing 75% of applications did not need to provide evidence of residence. It did not if specify the 25% of applicants were working age with contemporary HMRC records or pensioners who could only rely on DWP records.