Written evidence submitted by the NRPF Network [IOC 346]
- The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network, hosted by Islington Council, provides advice and guidance to local authorities across the UK about statutory support for destitute families, care leavers, and adults with care needs who, due to their immigration status, have no recourse to public funds.
- Our response focuses on how effective the support provided by the Government has been in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on rough sleepers and people who are homeless who have no recourse to public funds.
- For the purpose of this response, when we describe people as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ we are referring to:
- non-EEA nationals with leave to remain that is subject to this condition,
- non-EEA nationals who do not have any current immigration permission, and
- EEA nationals who are ineligible for benefits because they have not obtained settled status and are not exercising a qualifying right to reside.
- The Government directed local authorities to temporarily suspend usual eligibility rules in order to respond to the Covid-19 public health emergency and protect all rough sleepers by providing accommodation, regardless of their immigration status. Many local authorities adopted innovative approaches to help rough sleepers and people who, prior to this intervention, were the ‘hidden homeless’. There is an opportunity for the Government to take account of the experiences of frontline staff and of people who have been assisted, in order to build person-centred policies and improve the pathways out of homelessness when routes are constricted by immigration processes and policies.
- Operational measures introduced by the Home Office to protect people at risk of destitution during the pandemic, or who need to establish an exit pathway when accommodation and financial support is provided by the local authority, have limited effect as they do not always apply to individuals being assisted.
- The Government could play a more effective role in preventing homelessness, and reducing the financial and resource burden on local authorities incurred by providing accommodation to people with no recourse to public funds, by making changes to policies that exclude people from benefits and developing a clearer policy approach to supporting return to country of origin for individuals who have no routes to obtain leave to remain in the UK.
- The Government needs to provide clearer direction to assist local authority decision making with regards to the provision of accommodation when statutory duties are not engaged in order to to avoid inconsistent practice, to enable vulnerable people to be provided with support when this intervention is required, and to ensure that local authorities do not incur financial losses when prioritising efforts to end rough sleeping.
- In the absence of the immigration policy changes required to reduce need, and to enable people to achieve sustainable move-on outcomes more expediently, councils require funding to fully cover resulting long-term support commitments.
- Additional groups of people will be at risk of homelessness in forthcoming months as a result of immigration policy changes that: extend the imposition of the NRPF condition on new groups of people entering the UK from January 2021, affect the rights of EEA nationals following the end of free movement, and introduce the ground of rough sleeping as a basis for cancelling or refusing leave.
Establishing exit pathways for people who have been accommodated during the pandemic
- During the pandemic local authorities have accommodated people with no recourse to public funds when statutory duties in the Children Act 1989 or Care Act 2014 have been engaged and people who were rough sleeping as part of the emergency public health response.
- The challenge now is for local authorities to establish appropriate exit pathways and sustainable outcomes for those who have been provided with statutory support, as well as for those who have been accommodated through ‘everyone in’ in order to prevent people from returning to the streets when accommodation no longer needs to be provided on public health grounds. A sustainable outcome could be enabling the person to obtain a change of immigration status allowing access to public funds, accessing employment to enable the person to self-support, or return to country of origin.
- Our data on the support provided to households with no recourse to public funds under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and the Care Act 2014 shows that at the end of March 2020, the average time a household spent on support was 758 days, increasing to 1055 days for adult households. 82% of family households and 51% of adult households exited support following grants of leave to remain. 19% of adult households exited support after becoming eligible for benefits (EEA nationals) and 7% returned to their country of origin (all non-EEA nationals). This data indicates that in the majority of cases, a resolution other than return to country of origin is often the route out of dependency on the local authority for support, and that such outcomes can take a long time to achieve. 
- Establishing onward referral pathways for people with no recourse to public funds who have been accommodated during the pandemic requires significant staff resources and expertise, and involves working in partnership with legal advice providers and the Home Office. Local authorities are increasing utilising their own resources and MHCLG funding to fund legal advice provision. However, in the absence of legal aid for most immigration matters, good quality legal advice is still not readily available to assist all those who are being accommodated.
- In some instances there will be no clear exit pathway or there may be an outcome that is very difficult to achieve. In such cases, the Home Office could play a more effective role to reduce the burden on local authorities in providing this essential support. We summarise some of the issues faced by these groups in the following paragraphs and please also refer to the evidence submitted by our host borough, Islington Council, for practice examples.
- EEA nationals who have obtained pre-settled status will only be eligible for benefits if they are able to access employment. Those who are not ‘work ready’, for example, due to health issues, substance misuse issues, or after periods of entrenched homelessness, will continue to remain in need of local authority support. This will also be the case for those who are able to work but cannot access employment due to the current economic situation. A person may be in need of this support for up to five years, depending on when they can apply for settled status. The Government therefore needs to enable pre-settled status to count as a qualifying right to reside for benefits purposes, or to allow vulnerable groups, including people being accommodated by local authorities, to qualify for settled status regardless of their period of residency.
- People who have leave to remain that is subject to the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition can only apply for this restriction to be lifted (a change of conditions) when their leave is granted on family or private life grounds. The Home Office took positive steps to make this more accessible during the pandemic through an online process and deciding applications quickly. However, people who have leave to remain on other immigration routes, such as UK Ancestry, cannot apply for a change of conditions and may not have any alternative means of being able to access public funds. A person who is in this position has permission to work but will face challenges accessing employment that generates sufficient income to cover their housing and living costs when they cannot rely on Universal Credit to top-up a low income. A temporary suspension of the imposition of the NRPF condition would therefore enable people in this position to access benefits and alternative accommodation.
- People without status who need to make immigration applications face challenges accessing legal advice. Even when the local authority is able to facilitate access to this, applications can take a long time to prepare for submission, then to be decided by the Home Office. Our data demonstrates the need for the Home Office to undertake a one-off exercise to grant leave to remain to people without status when return to country of origin is not a realistic prospect or will not be enforced. As an alternative, more sustainable funding for immigration advice provision is required and prioritisation by the Home Office to expedite applications made by people who are accommodated by local authorities.
- Our data also shows that return is rarely taken up by individuals receiving local authority support; in the majority of cases people will have established rights to remain under the Immigration Rules. When a person is at a stage in their immigration journey where return is the only alternative to remaining destitute in the UK, this decision must be fully informed, allowing an opportunity for the exploration of all other immigration options. Although return may in the end be a viable outcome for an individual, the starting point should not be a presumption that this is always possible or will be the most appropriate cause of action. Additionally, it will become more challenging for a local authority to promote trust in the returns process when sanctions are being imposed on people for rough sleeping (see paragraph 31).
Legislative gaps for people without social care needs
- In order to protect rough sleepers as part of the public health response to the pandemic, local authorities have provided accommodation and additional support to people with no recourse to public funds who are ineligible for assistance under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, in line with government instructions to accommodate rough sleepers and people who were at risk of rough sleeping, regardless of their immigration status.
- However, a local authority may not have any basis to provide ongoing support to people with no recourse to public funds who have already been accommodated when the original grounds for providing this no longer apply, for example, when there is no longer a public health need related to the pandemic and/or there is no longer a risk to life. This will leave the individual at risk of homelessness if a sustainable outcome has not been achieved by that time.
- No changes have been made to benefit or housing eligibility criteria during the pandemic and the Government has reiterated that the position regarding the NRPF condition remains the same. Although people with no recourse to public funds may be supported by a local authority when duties are engaged under the Children Act 1989 or Care Act 2014, many adults who have been accommodated through ‘everyone in’ will not qualify for such assistance. The local authority will only have a duty to provide accommodation under the Care Act 2014 when an adult has care and support needs arising from a disability, illness or mental health impairment. For a person who is ‘in breach of immigration laws’, accommodation under the Care Act can only be provided where there is a legal or practical barrier preventing the person from returning to their country of origin to avoid a situation of destitution in the UK.
- The courts have ruled that section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 (the general power of competence) cannot be used to provide accommodation when a person is ineligible under the Housing Act 1996 and the Care Act 2014. This leaves the local authority without recourse to a power to exercise when it establishes that the most effective intervention would be to accommodate a person with no recourse to public funds, who is vulnerable but who does not meet the thresholds for statutory support.
- Although specific programmes have enabled local authorities to accommodate some groups of people with no recourse to public funds who would otherwise be rough sleeping during the pandemic, it is unclear what will happen when these schemes end. For example, powers of derogation to support EEA nationals only apply until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 and the Protect Programme funding lasts until March 2021.
- Without a clear legal framework or guidance to apply to decision making, it is very challenging for a local authority to determine what the best intervention is going to be for an individual who is currently accommodated or is newly homeless. The provision of accommodation places the local authority at risk of incurring unfunded long-term costs, but the failure to intervene raises the risk of a legal challenge, reputational risk, and is inconsistent with the aim to end rough sleeping. Where a local authority is left to make the difficult decision about the extent of its discretion to provide support, inevitably there will be inconsistent practice across regions, and councils that have placed a focus on ending rough sleeping will face a significant budget deficit.
Funding for accommodating people with no recourse to public funds
- Supporting people with no recourse to public funds when social services’ duties are enacted collectively costs local authorities at least £44 million/ year (based on data provide by 66 councils), with the average annual cost of providing accommodation and financial support to a household being £17,887.
- The London School of Economics has estimated that in 2020/21, costs of £33.1 million will be incurred in supporting people with no recourse to public funds through ‘Everyone in’ by the London boroughs, with the cost per person estimated to be £21,400.
- Local authorities have utilised the funding streams from MHCLG to provide accommodation to rough sleepers and, in some instances, additional support such as commissioning immigration advice. Although this, and other Covid-19 related funding to support vulnerable residents was welcomed, it has been insufficient to cover the costs of providing accommodation, financial support, and other assistance to people with no recourse to public funds in addition to meeting the needs of other vulnerable residents at a time when local authorities are facing overall budget deficits.
- In the absence of the immigration policy changes required to reduce destitution and to enable people to achieve sustainable move-on outcomes more expediently, councils require funding to fully cover the resulting long-term support commitments.
- As of 1 January 2021, there will be new groups entering the UK who are subject to the NRPF condition, including EEA nationals who enter under the Immigration Rules, for example, as visitors, and people who are granted leave to enter on the new Hong Kong BNO settlement route. Should such people be unable to support themselves in the UK then they will be at risk of destitution and homelessness. Rather than mitigating the impacts of being subject to the NRPF condition during the pandemic, the Government is extending the scope of its use.
- There are various groups of EEA nationals who may be at risk of destitution following the end of free movement on 31 December 2021:
- Those who have not yet applied or been granted leave under the EU Settlement Scheme by 31 December 2020 will not all have a protected legal status during the grace period until 30 June 2021. As a result, entitlement to benefits and housing assistance is going to be challenging for decision makers to establish, or for an individual to evidence.
- Those who have not applied for the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 will be deemed to be unlawfully present in the UK. It is currently unclear in what circumstances late applications will be accepted.
- People who obtain pre-settled status will need to be economically active in order to access benefits and housing assistance (see paragraph 15).
- The introduction of the ground of refusal which will allow the Home Office to cancel leave or refuse leave to remain when a person is identified as having been rough sleeping also creates a risk of destitution and homelessness. The threat of this may discourage engagement with local authority outreach services, even though the rule only applies to certain specific groups. When it does apply, a person will be left in a position where they are unable to work in the UK and subject to other sanctions if their leave is cancelled or an application refused. They will therefore be destitute and at risk of homelessness if immediate enforcement action is not undertaken by the Home Office. The threat of cancellation of leave on the grounds of rough sleeping will not benefit the individual concerned, frontline staff attempting to engage with rough sleepers, or local authorities when people are left destitute and unable to work, and overlooks the fact that in many cases, a route out of homelessness will be the recognition of a person’s right to remain rather than curtailment of immigration status.
 NRPF Connect annual report 2019-20 https://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/-/media/microsites/nrpf/documents/nrpf-connect/data-report-201920.pdf