Written evidence submitted by the NRPF Network [IOC 214]

 

Introduction

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. We have published the following information to help councils to prevent homelessness and to support their emergency responses during the pandemic:

 

 

  1. Our response focuses on how effective the support from MHCLG and other government departments has been with regards to rough sleepers, and those who are homeless or living in the private rented sector, who have no recourse to public funds.

 

  1. For the purpose of this response, when we describe people as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ we are referring to:

Summary

 

Effectiveness of government support

 

  1. The Government’s strategy, as set out in the Secretary of State’s letter of 26 March, supports the work being done by local authorities to halt the transmission of the pandemic and sets out a universal approach to protecting vulnerable homeless groups.

 

  1. In order to implement the strategy, the Government appears to be asking local authorities to act outside of their statutory duties without providing clarity about: (1) which powers may be exercised to deliver the strategy for residents with no recourse to public funds, and (2) how a local authority will determine whether it is responsible for providing accommodation to an individual. Lack of guidance on these issues is likely to lead to inconsistent practice, difficulties when support needs to be stepped-down, and legal challenges against local authorities.

 

  1. There is a lack of clarity about whether the initial emergency fund for rough sleepers (£32 million) can be used by local authorities to fund accommodation for people with no recourse to public funds.

 

  1. It is unlikely that wider funding to support local government responses to the pandemic will be available and sufficient to cover the costs of accommodating people with no recourse to public funds in addition to the other services local authorities are delivering during this crisis.

 

  1. The Home Office could play a more effective role in ensuring that people with no recourse to public funds do not become destitute or homeless whilst the pandemic is ongoing, for example, by removing restrictions on access to benefits. The burden on local government to provide accommodation could be reduced if the Home Office takes steps to provide asylum support without delay to people that qualify for this.

Current and immediate concerns

  1. VCS organisations have reported that some rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds who have not been provided with accommodation and/or subsistence support by their local authority.

 

  1. The inclusion of the local authority discretionary welfare fund in the list of excluded public funds is a barrier to administering appropriate financial support to residents with no recourse to public funds, whether living in in the community or accommodated on public health grounds.

 

  1. There is a real risk that many people with no recourse to public funds who are renting in the private sector and have lost their employment will experience homelessness because they cannot rely on the benefit safety net. A consequence of the Home Office not removing restrictions to benefits during the pandemic is that local government is likely to incur additional costs when accommodation and financial support needs to be provided under the Children Act 1989 or the Care Act 2014.

Post-lockdown impacts

  1. A significant proportion of people assisted through the emergency response on public health grounds have no recourse to public funds; in the context of current immigration policy and processes, local authorities have very serious concerns about how they can achieve positive step-down outcomes and prevent this group from returning to rough sleeping.

 

  1. In the absence of any positive step-down outcomes, ongoing funding to local authorities must be provided to accommodate people with no recourse to public funds.

 

  1. In order to build resilient communities and manage ongoing public health risks during the recovery period, an urgent review of the impact of immigration-based exclusions is required; to effectively reduce poverty and health inequalities, granting residence rights and access to public funds must be considered for people who are unlikely to ever leave the UK or be forcibly removed.

 

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

  1. On 26 March, the Government’s strategy to assist homeless people during the pandemic, including those who have no recourse to public funds, was announced through a letter from the Secretary of State to local authority Chief Executives and Leaders. The letter was an important call-to-action that supports the work being done by local authorities to halt the transmission of the pandemic amongst all residents, and sets out that any strategy to protect vulnerable homeless groups requires a universal approach regarding the provision of accommodation.

 

  1. The strategy set out in the letter has been supported by Voluntary and Community Sector colleagues, with Crisis describing the policy as ‘everyone in’. On 14 April, 50 VCS organisations sent a letter to local authorities setting out how they should comply with the strategy, following an initial letter dated 20 March demanding that councils provide people with no recourse to public funds with appropriate accommodation.[3]

 

  1. Although many councils already have experience of providing emergency shelter to rough sleepers, including those who have no recourse to public funds when implementing SWEP or other emergency accommodation measures, the strategy announced on 26 March required councils to provide much more than a bed space in a night shelter. It firstly requires the local authority to provide suitable accommodation to enable people who are rough sleeping, at risk of rough sleeping, or in accommodation where it is difficult to isolate, to follow Public Health England guidance in order to reduce risks to the individual and of wider transmission. Secondly, it requires that the people who are assisted are provided with food and other necessary support. A person with no recourse to public funds who is ineligible for benefits, may therefore also require a subsistence payment.

 

  1. However, the lack of further guidance about how the strategy should be implemented to support people with no recourse to public funds has meant that serious health risks to vulnerable individuals and the public have not been adequately addressed in all areas of the country and there still remains a lack of clarity with regards to funding and whether what is available will be sufficient to cover all costs incurred. Alongside the strategy, the Home Office needs to pay a more effective role in ensuring that people with no recourse to public funds are not at risk of homelessness.

Need for guidance

  1. The Government clearly recognises that in order to enable full compliance with shielding, self-isolation and social distancing measures, people with no recourse to public funds need to be included in its strategy to protect vulnerable homeless groups. 

 

  1. The strategy therefore requires local authorities to provide accommodation and additional support to people with no recourse to public funds who would not normally be eligible for such assistance under the Children Act 1989 or Care Act 2014, the legislation that may be engaged to accommodate families and adults with care needs, respectively. Adults who do not have care needs do not fall under the scope of the Care Act and 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.

 

  1. When local authorities are asked to act outside of their statutory duties, clarity must be provided about: (1) which powers may be exercised to deliver the strategy for residents with no recourse to public funds, and (2) how a local authority will determine whether it is responsible for providing accommodation to an individual.

 

  1. On the basis of the following instructions provided by the Government, many local authorities have acted on the assumption that powers exist, which can be exercised to provide accommodation and other necessary support to people who are ineligible for assistance under the Housing Act 1996, i.e. who have no recourse to public funds:

 

 

12. Where duties are triggered under the Housing Act 1996 local authorities have duties and powers under either s.188(1) or s.205(3) of that Act to provide accommodation to homeless persons.

 

13. Where these duties do not apply, for example for a person who is ineligible for assistance due to immigration status, the General Power of Competence set out in s.1 Localism Act 2011 may allow local authorities to provide this assistance.

 

  1. Local authorities have therefore proceeded to provide accommodation to people with no recourse to public funds with the expectation that this would be funded through the emergency fund for rough sleepers and to comply with the Government’s strategy. The immediate priority of local authorities has been to implement the strategy and accommodate people as a matter of urgency, with staff working incredibly hard to get this done, so it will be understandable that establishing the exact legal basis under which support is provided to people with no recourse to public funds may not have been at the forefront of officers minds. However, in recent weeks, MHCLG officials have communicated to councils that the emergency fund cannot be used for such placements and have implied that councils may be accommodating people with no recourse to public funds by choice. Although a note to this effect was withdrawn, we are aware that similar statements have been made verbally to other councils. On 3 April, Crisis called for clarity and funding for councils in light of inconsistent responses from local authorities leaving many people with no recourse to public funds without accommodation. [4]

 

  1. Administering support to people with no recourse to public funds when social services’ duties are engaged is a very challenging area of work for local authorities. We were therefore concerned that the lack of clarity regarding the legal powers to deliver support to people who do not qualify under statutory provisions would lead to inconsistent responses and practice, and difficulties when support needs to be stepped-down, leaving local authorities vulnerable to legal challenges. Additionally, the question of establishing where responsibility lies for delivering and funding the service may not easily be resolved, which is a particularly relevant issue for two-tier authorities. On 25 March, we wrote to an MHCLG official by email to set out why guidance is needed and to request clarification about the legal powers the Government intends local authorities to engage to deliver the strategy. To date we have not received a response and VCS organisations have reported that people who are covered by the strategy have not always been assisted (see paragraphs 33-34).

Funding

  1. Central Government does not fund local authorities for supporting people with no recourse to public funds when social services’ duties are engaged, despite this support being primarily provided whilst people are waiting for outcomes on their immigration claims. As the Home Office has not taken steps to remove restrictions on access to benefits during the pandemic for people subject to the no recourse to public funds condition, local authorities are likely to face increasing costs when support is either provided to enact statutory duties or on public health grounds outside of these duties and powers.

 

  1. Although government funding has been vital to supporting the procurement of accommodation, it is often insufficient to meet the wider support needs of homeless groups and, as stated in paragraph 24, it is currently unclear whether the emergency fund for rough sleepers is available to cover accommodation placements for those who have no recourse to public funds.

 

  1. Supporting people with no recourse to public funds collectively costs local authorities at least £47.5 million/ year (based on data provide by 59 councils), with the average annual cost of providing accommodation and financial support to a household being £17,914. It would be positive if the emergency fund is available to cover accommodation placements for people with no recourse to public funds on public health grounds but that, alongside the £3.2 billion funding to support local government responses to the pandemic, is unlikely to be sufficient to cover the full costs of providing support to this group in addition to the other services local authorities have provided and still need to deliver to protect vulnerable residents during this crisis.[5]

Role of the Home Office

  1. We have submitted written evidence to the Home Affairs committee to set out that the Home Office has not taken sufficient steps to minimise the overall impact of Covid-19 on people who have no recourse to public funds. In our submission we highlighted that:

 

 

  1. The Local Government Associations as well as the Mayor of London have written to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister, respectively to call for the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition to be suspended so that all migrants living in the UK can access benefits and public services. [7]

 

  1. Responsibility for the provision of accommodation for destitute asylum seekers and appeal rights exhausted (ARE) asylum seekers lies with the Home Office rather than the local authority. However, the difficulties people face accessing Home Office accommodation, particularly section 4 asylum support, are widely documented. When Home Office support cannot be immediately accessed and there are delays getting an asylum seeker safely transferred to this support, it will fall to the local authority to provide accommodation to prevent homelessness when social services’ duties are engaged or when this is required on public health grounds. [8]

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

Meeting accommodation and subsistence needs

  1. Some people who are homeless or rough sleeping who have no recourse to public funds have reportedly not been provided with accommodation by their local authority, resulting in serious health risks to vulnerable individuals in some areas of the country. [9]

 

  1. The Government has advised in its strategy that support should include: ‘Getting the social care basics such as food, and clinician care to people who need it in the self-contained accommodation.’ As people with no recourse to public funds will not have access to benefits it will be necessary to ensure that they have access to food and other basic items, or the means to obtain these. However, the No Accommodation Network (NACCOM) has reported that many local authorities accommodating people with no recourse to public funds are not providing subsistence payments, and it is falling to the voluntary sector to fill this gap in support. [10]

 

  1. Some local authorities are utilising their local welfare schemes as an established mechanism to deliver emergency support, such as food vouchers, to residents and people who have been accommodated on public health grounds. However, a discretionary support payment made by a local authority welfare scheme (under section 1 of the Localism Act 2011​), is classed as a ‘public fund for immigration purposes. This barrier to being able to deliver an effective response to people who are subject to the no recourse to public funds condition may be worked around, for example, by using a different funding stream, but this creates additional bureaucracy at a time when council resources are already stretched.

Private renters at risk of homelessness

  1. Some of the measures introduced by the Government to assist people who lose employment during the pandemic may be accessed by people with no recourse to public funds but if they do not meet the requirements, or this provision is insufficient to adequately protect a person’s income and/ or accommodation arrangements, they will unable to rely on the safety net of the benefit system and will be at risk of destitution and homelessness, either now or at a later date. Due to being excluded from a local authority allocation of social housing, the majority will be renting private sector accommodation and may not all be covered by the protections for tenants. Those who do not have any immigration permission are likely to be living in less formal arrangements. [11]

 

  1. Since mid-March 2020, we have received nearly 100 email enquiries about access to public services and financial support from members of the public with no recourse to public funds who have suddenly lost employment, are unable to find further work and/ or are required to shield or self-isolate. These enquiries have been made by people who had been undertaking various job roles and hold different types of immigration status, including points-based system work visas and family visas. This indicates that there could be significant number of people who are at risk of destitution and homelessness, whether imminently or in the medium-term when protections for employees and tenants are removed.

 

  1. Additionally, local authorities are already reporting increasing requests for social services’ support from people with no recourse to public funds, who have become destitute and homeless as a result of the pandemic. Local authorities may be required to provide accommodation and financial support to families and adults with care needs when duties under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or the Care Act 2014, respectively, are engaged.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

  1. The emergency response is a real opportunity to end rough sleeping and reduce homelessness and the Secretary of State’s letter acknowledges that onward referral pathways are going to need to be established: ‘In the longer term it will of course be necessary to identifying step-down arrangements for the future, including the re-opening of shelter-type accommodation.

 

  1. Data of the support provided to households with no recourse to public funds by 59 local authorities in 2018/19 shows that the average time a household spent on support was 820 days, with 80% of households exited support due to obtaining a change of immigration status with recourse to public funds. Only 3% of households resolved their situation of destitution in the UK by returning to their country of origin.[12]

 

  1. Establishing onward referral pathways for people with no recourse to public funds is extremely challenging, requires a lot of staff resources and expertise, and cannot be achieved in a short timeframe, with efforts hindered for those who need to regularise their status by the lack of legal aid for immigration matters, high immigration application fees, delays in Home Office decision making and lengthy appeal processes. EEA nationals who are unable to work will remain ineligible for benefits if they only qualify for pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Those who do not apply will become unlawfully present after 30 June 2021.

 

  1. Feedback from local authorities has been that a significant proportion of people assisted through the emergency response have no recourse to public funds, although it is too early to provide figures.  This indicates that there are high levels of ‘hidden homelessness’ in our communities that may not have previously been apparent due the limitations on providing statutory support to single adults and the proactive role of the VCS in accommodating some groups, for example, appeal rights exhausted (ARE) asylum seekers, although such services may now be reduced.

 

  1. Local authorities therefore have very serious concerns about how they can end rough sleeping when accommodation no longer needs to be provided on public health grounds and when no statutory duties are engaged to provide ongoing support to those who have no recourse to public funds. In the absence of any positive step-down outcomes, ongoing funding to local authorities must be provided to accommodate people with no recourse to public funds.

 

  1. However, in order to build resilient communities and effectively manage ongoing public health risks during the recovery period, an urgent review of the impact of immigration-based exclusions is required. The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted that there is now an even greater need to reduce poverty and health inequalities within society. Local authorities and VCS organisations can only successfully achieve this when residents have full access to employment, housing and universal services. As the Government is about to introduce a new immigration regime following the UK’s departure from the European Union, granting residence rights and access to public funds to people who are unlikely to ever leave the UK or be forcibly removed is an option that must now be seriously considered.

 

May 2020


[1] http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/information/Pages/Coronavirus-information.aspx

[2] http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Documents/coronavirus-factsheet.pdf

[3] https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/homelessness-charities-urge-government-to-remove-last-remaining-barriers-preventing-councils-from-getting-everyone-in/; https://www.pilc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Joint-letter-to-LAs-COVID-19-and-migrant-homelessness-BM.pdf; https://www.project17.org.uk/media/96286/las-and-covid-19-follow-up-letter-144-basic.pdf

[4] https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/homelessness-charities-urge-government-to-remove-last-remaining-barriers-preventing-councils-from-getting-everyone-in/

[5] http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Documents/NRPF-connect-annual-report-2018-19.pdf

[6] https://committees.parliament.uk/work/184/home-office-preparedness-for-covid19-coronavirus/publications/written-evidence/?page=2

[7] http://www.migrationscotland.org.uk/uploads/documents/20-04-08%20Letter%20from%20Local%20Government%20Associations%20to%20Home%20Secretary%20on%20NRPF.pdf; https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-calls-for-support-for-those-with-low-income

[8]https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/04/26/factsheet-asylum-accommodation-and-applications/ https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/missing-the-safety-net-report/

[9]https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/homelessness-charities-urge-government-to-remove-last-remaining-barriers-preventing-councils-from-getting-everyone-in/; https://migrantsrights.org.uk/blog/2020/04/30/local-authorities-homeless-migrants-and-families-covid-19

[10] https://naccom.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Briefing-for-NACCOM-members-on-working-with-Local-Authority-FINAL.pdf

[11] https://www.ippr.org/blog/migrant-workers-and-coronavirus

[12] http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Documents/NRPF-connect-annual-report-2018-19.pdf; http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Documents/policy-recommendations.pdf