Kids in Need of Defense UK (KIND UK) — Written evidence (FAM0032)   

KIND UK (Kids in Need of Defense UK) works to protect the rights of children, young people and families as they navigate the UK’s immigration, citizenship and nationality procedures.

• We provide free legal advice and representation.  We partner with lawyers and law firms across the country to ensure the best quality legal assistance.

• We protect the rights and wellbeing of children and young people

• We campaign for systemic change to ensure that all children are safe and able to thrive regardless of their immigration or nationality status

In 2021, we supported more than 700 children, young people and families. Over 450 lawyers from 20 partner law firms worked on KIND cases, and we achieved a success rate of 99%.

KIND UK is a collaboration involving five award-winning, UK-based organisations: Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, JustRight Scotland, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Central England Law Centre, and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit. We partner with KIND, a US charity supporting legal representation for children facing deportation proceedings alone.

Kids in Need of Defense UK makes this submission to the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee’s Family Migration Inquiry.

We wish to highlight concerns around the following areas related to our work:

1)           Inadequate knowledge of children’s immigration and nationality issues within local authorities;

2)           Lack of adequate legal assistance for children and families;

3)           The impact of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ policy; and

4)           Problems relating to the UK’s Ukraine Schemes

1)          Inadequate knowledge of children’s immigration and nationality issues within local authorities

Many of KIND’s clients are children in need, children in care, or care leavers. In our experience, there are significant gaps in awareness, knowledge and training within many local authorities on immigration and citizenship issues as they affect children and young people.


This results in numerous problems that have serious adverse impacts on children’s rights, best interests, and potential. For example, children in care have, in some cases for several years, not had any attention paid to their immigration status or nationality, with the result that they may be unable to go on trips abroad with schools or foster families or face serious hardships. As they approach adulthood, without having permission to remain in the UK or the right documents, they experience difficulties or impossibilities in seeking to work, access welfare benefits, enter university, rent accommodation, vote, or undertake many vital activities. In some cases, they may be threatened with removal from the UK to a country they do not know, and in some cases, without adequate legal assistance, a child’s route to British citizenship is lost.

Delaying resolution of immigration and nationality issues also can cost local authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. For example, waiting until a young person leaves care in some cases can cost approximately £130,000 in local authority support (accommodation and living costs) and Home Office fees.[1]

Example: Ana, a child in care

Ana* entered the UK at age 11 with indefinite leave to enter. Her mother had settled in the UK and naturalized as a British citizen before Ana arrived. Ana was taken into care at age 14. At age 17, Ana was pregnant and living in supported accommodation, and nothing had been done about her immigration and citizenship issues. She still had permission to live in the UK indefinitely, but she had no documentation of this and would be unable to work or claim benefits for herself or her baby.


KIND UK helped Ana apply for documents proving there was no time limit on her stay in the UK, and subsequently, to make an application for British citizenship. Her application was discretionary as she was not born in the UK. The application had to be made urgently as Ana was nearing age 18, and this route to citizenship would be lost on her 18th birthday. Ana was granted British citizenship a few months after applying.


*[name changed]

Additional examples are available on our website here.

2) Lack of adequate legal assistance for children and families

Many children and their families are unable to access competent legal advice for their immigration and citizenship matters. These matters are generally not in scope for Legal Aid in England and Wales, and there are numerous challenges that make it impossible for most Legal Aid providers to take many (or any) cases under Exceptional Case Funding, even in cases where it is theoretically available. In addition, capacity of Legal Aid providers to take on new cases is very limited or non-existent in some areas.[2]

KIND UK exists because there is inadequate Legal Aid provision for children and young people who desperately need expert help with immigration and citizenship matters. We consistently have a waiting list of approximately 200 children seeking to access our free legal advice services, and our average waiting time for assistance is approximately 9 months. We are sometimes obliged to turn away children and young people seeking urgent legal advice because we do not have capacity meet demand.

Example: Lena*, a child in need

Lena came to live in the UK at age 2, with her mother and brother, to join Lena’s dad. They did not have permission to enter or stay in the UK. Lena’s father, who suffers from mental illness, was abusive, and the family has lived in serious poverty and hardship. By age 13, Lena had self-harmed and attempted suicide. After referral to their local authority in 2020, Lena and a younger sister (born in the UK) were assessed to be children in need, and Lena, her sister, and mum began receiving support, pursuant to Section 17 of the Children Act (England). They had no recourse to public funds, so were not eligible for mainstream welfare benefits.


In 2021, an application was submitted for the family to be granted permission to stay in the UK based on Lena’s residence for more than 7 years. This application potentially could have been made in 2018, had the family gotten appropriate legal advice sooner.


It would be much easier for families like Lena’s to find adequate legal assistance and resolve their immigration issues at the earliest possible opportunity if their immigration matters were in scope for Legal Aid and there was sufficient capacity in the Legal Aid sector.


[*name changed] More information about Lena’s story is available here.

3) The impact of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ policy

Many of KIND UK’s clients are children in families who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). This means they are not permitted to access mainstream public welfare benefits, either because their parents or guardians do not have permission to be in the UK or they have an immigration status which has an NRPF condition attached to it. The NRPF policy contributes to driving families into poverty for prolonged periods. It often puts them in need of the support and help of their local authority (for example, as children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act (England) and similar provisions applicable in other regions of the UK). Having no access to mainstream welfare support forces adults in some families to work long hours, often in poor conditions, in an attempt to meet their and their children’s needs. NRPF restrictions lead many children to experience street homelessness, hunger, stress and associated mental health issues, digital exclusion and domestic abuse. Women, disabled people, and BME children are disproportionately affected by the NRPF condition. NRPF restrictions affect more than 1.376 million people in the UK, including more than 176,000 children.[3]


Many people who approach children’s social services for support may be able to get the NRPF condition removed through a change of conditions application or make an immigration application which may give them access to public funds. However, many people remain unaware that they can get an NRPF condition removed, or they need legal help to do so. In some areas, there are particular challenges for persons with EU Pre-Settled status to access public funds or support from their local authority.


Example: Khalima*, a child in need taken into care


Khalima lived in her country of origin with her grandmother until 2019. Her mother is deceased, and she never had contact with her father. In 2019, at age 15, Khalima was granted an EEA family permit and came to live with her aunt (an EEA national) in Scotland.


A few months after coming to the UK, Khalima experienced domestic abuse and left her aunt’s house. She became homeless and was referred to the local authority for support. The local authority arranged accommodation in a B&B for a few days and, subsequently, in an adult homeless accommodation for several weeks. During this time, Khalima received no financial support and was left alone and without funds. The local authority initially deemed that Khalima was not entitled to support under Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 due to concerns about her immigration status and whether she had recourse to public funds. After intervention by her legal adviser, the local authority eventually took Khalima into care.


In late 2020, Khalima was granted EU Pre-Settled status. In 2022, at age 19, she continues to be looked after by the local authority as a care-leaver, which is essential due to continuing challenges for persons with Pre-Settled Status to access public funds.


[*name changed] More information about Khalima’s story is available here.

4) Problems relating to the UK’s Ukraine Schemes

KIND UK provides pro bono legal advice for children and families fleeing Ukraine, starting in September 2022, as well as related training for legal practitioners and others. Some of our partner organisations are already providing advice relating to the Ukraine schemes. As we extend our service to children fleeing the war in Ukraine, we have significant concerns regarding the Government’s provisions for children from Ukraine through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ Sponsorship Scheme and other schemes. Many of our concerns are shared by other actors, across the political spectrum and by members of the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Many concerns were raised during a House of Lords debate on Ukrainian Refugees on 7 July 2022. These included Lord Loomba (CB) regarding unaccompanied children and safeguarding procedures, Baroness Sheehan (LD) regarding the application process and support for families, Lord Moynihan (Con) regarding delays and financial support after arrival, and Lord Paddick (LD) regarding Ukrainian families becoming homeless.

At a Westminster Hall debate on 22 June 2022, MPs from across the Commons cited concerns from their constituencies. Aaron Bell MP (Con), Newcastle-under-Lyme, raised the case of a four-year-old girl from Kharkiv stuck in Poland with her grandmother. She has a sponsor and extended family in Staffordshire but was waiting for a decision for weeks. Crispin Blunt MP (Con), Reigate, raised the case of a 15-year-old girl trying to get to the UK accompanied by her grandparents and cousin, but she did not meet the requirements of the Scheme. Tulip Siddiq MP (Lab), Hampstead and Kilburn, raised several concerns, noting the case of two Ukrainian sisters, 13 and 18, who had a UK sponsor. The elder sister had guardianship of the younger. Their parents remained in Ukraine (their father served in the Ukrainian defence forces and their mother was a doctor). The sisters were staying in an unsafe hostel in Montenegro. The elder sister’s UK visa was approved, but the younger sister’s application was not, because she was not applying with a parent. She returned to a war zone in Ukraine with her mother.

We highlight four key concerns:

  1. Delays in processing applications
  2. Onerous visa requirements
  3. Inadequate safeguarding and support
  4. Limited scope and exclusion of many children


  1. Delays

Serious concerns have been raised regarding delays of several months in issuing some visas, for unaccompanied children and for children travelling with a parent or legal guardian. For example, as of 29 May 2022, at least 500 children who fled Ukraine without their parents were waiting in other countries for decisions on their applications to come to the UK. The majority were teens who believed they were eligible and had sponsors waiting for them in the UK. Many of them had had no decisions on their applications for 2 months or longer.

  1. Onerous visa requirements

The visa application process itself poses significant barriers for applicants, with a range of problems arising since the launch of the scheme. These are of particular concern as many applicants have had to try to complete lengthy online forms from bomb shelters and/or with sporadic power cuts.

Problems include:

Example: A mother applying to come to the UK with her baby had her own visa approved, but she was required to get a biometric document for her infant daughter before they could enter the UK. The nearest visa centre was over 200 miles away and getting there would put their lives at further risk.

  1. Safeguarding and support

UK Government officials have rightly emphasised the importance of safeguarding children from Ukraine. KIND UK shares concerns about children’s safety and welcomes an approach that ensures the safeguarding of Ukrainian children. However, many children are at significant risk in Ukraine, and safeguarding must be carefully balanced with the need to allow children to flee the dangers of war in Ukraine. Although adults involved in sponsoring children should be vetted, in many cases, there are no safeguarding concerns relating to sponsors and applications could be expedited in those cases.

As well as the dangers posed by remaining in a war zone, delays can increase risks of exploitation for children in insecure environments, by traffickers or others. Risks of harm are also heightened for some who become desperate due to delay or exclusion and travel to the UK outside the current schemes.

Safeguarding also entails ensuring that children will have adequate housing, food, and other support. Some Ukrainians who have recently arrived in the UK have expressed fear and insecurity in the homes in which they have been placed, at times without adequate checks having been done on the homes or sponsors. Local authorities have raised concerns about various aspects of the Ukraine schemes, including  the lack of capacity in many over-stretched and under-funded councils to meet increased demands, the lack of clarity around certain details such as what should happen when a sponsor relationship breaks down, and how additional work will be funded, noting that current funding would not be sufficient.


New arrivals under the sponsorship scheme receive £200 to help them settle in, but this is insufficient for many and has left some children in dire circumstances, including homelessness, until a parent or guardian can start working or benefits can be accessed, which may take weeks or months.


  1. Exclusion of many children

The criteria of the sponsorship schemes exclude many children, particularly unaccompanied children whose parents had no contacts in the UK prior to the war and where there are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ allowing sponsorship by a sponsor with whom there is no pre-war connection.

In addition, children in or from Ukraine who are not Ukrainian citizens nor the immediate family member of a Ukranian citizen are excluded from the scheme. This is a particular concern for stateless children in or previously resident in Ukraine.


1)          Training for local authorities

We recommend that the Government mandate and fund local authorities to ensure that social work practitioners receive adequate training relating to their duties to address children’s immigration and citizenship matters, including by engaging or actively referring to appropriate legal advisers.

2)          End NRPF

We recommend that the Government end the NRPF policy, so that anyone in need can access mainstream welfare benefits.

3)          Legal Advice

We recommend that immigration and citizenship matters be brought in scope for Legal Aid for all children (and their parents or guardians).

We also recommend that local authorities be required to actively refer all persons with whom they are in contact who do not have recourse to public funds but who need support and/or accommodation to competent, free, independent legal advice about their immigration and citizenship matters.

4)          Introduce visa-free routes for persons fleeing Ukraine

We recommend that the Government takes a child-centred approach that focuses on the rights and best interests of children from Ukraine, and in particular, allows visa-free travel (combined with adequate safeguarding procedures).

5)          Reduce barriers for children from Ukraine to enter the UK and reduce waiting times

If the visa regime for Ukrainian refugees is to remain in place, we recommend that the barriers for children to come to the UK should be reduced. The schemes should include unaccompanied children without a prior relationship to a sponsor and children from Ukraine who are not Ukrainian citizens, and delays should be reduced significantly. The visa application process should be improved in various ways, including:


6)          Improve safeguarding and support for refugees from Ukraine

We recommend that safeguarding and support should include 1) adequate funding for local authorities (based on local authorities’ assessments of required funds) to conduct checks on sponsors and homes in a timely manner prior to a child’s arrival, with regular follow up checks after arrival; and 2) an increase in the amount of settling in funding for new arrivals, to cover all necessary expenses until the applicant becomes self-sufficient through employment or is in receipt of public welfare benefits.


14 September 2022

[1] See

[2] For further information, please see Response of ILPA and PLP to the Ministry of Justice’s Consultation Immigration Legal Aid: A consultation on new fees for new services (Aug 2022)

[3] See Jolly, Singh, and Lobo (2022) No recourse to public funds: a qualitative evidence synthesis; CAB (2021) How do I survive now?; and Project 17 (2019) Not Seen Not Heard.