Written evidence from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network (CPN0015)
1.1. This is a joint submission from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network.
1.2. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services Ltd (ADCS) is the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children’s services (DCSs) appointed under the provisions of the Children Act (2004), and their senior teams. The DCS acts as a single point of professional leadership and accountability for services for children and young people in a local area, including children’s social care and education.
1.3. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.
1.4. The NRPF Network, hosted by Islington Council, provides advice and guidance to local authorities across the UK about statutory support for people who are excluded from mainstream benefits and housing assistance.
2.1. Local authorities play a key role in averting destitution by providing accommodation and financial support to families with no recourse to public funds.
2.2. Ensuring that childcare, free school meals and emergency support administered locally, are available to all low-income households, regardless of their immigration status, is essential to reduce poverty and help prevent families from reaching crisis point.
2.3. However, this support is unfunded by central government and the number of households receiving or requesting support is likely to represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of need.
2.4. Local authorities can only assist those who approach them for support, but it is common that individuals with NRPF will not approach their local authority due to factors including lack of awareness about their rights and fear around immigration enforcement.
3.1. The Committee will be aware that other Committees have identified the challenges involved in estimating the number of households that have NRPF accurately.
3.2. Local authorities are not required to collate and record this information and so it is difficult for councils to estimate the numbers of children living in households with NRPF without significant effort and resource locally.
4.1. The main applicant (parent’s) immigration status was recorded by the Home Office for 1,578 of the family households receiving support at the end of March 2021, as follows:
4.1.1. 47 per cent had no current immigration permission, including visa overstayers
4.1.2. 16 per cent had leave to remain with recourse to public funds and are likely to be in the process of transferring to mainstream benefits and housing services
4.1.3. 15 per cent had an asylum claim recorded
4.1.4. 12 per cent were European Economic Area (EEA) nationals or had European residence rights
4.1.5. 10 per cent had leave to remain subject to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition
4.2. The main applicant (parent’s) immigration status was recorded by the Home Office for 3,137 of the family households that requested or were referred for support between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, as follows:
4.2.1. 30 per cent had no current immigration permission, including visa overstayers
4.2.2. 21 per cent had leave to remain subject to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition
4.2.3. 18 per cent had leave to remain with recourse to public funds and are likely to be in the process of transferring to mainstream benefits and housing services
4.2.4. 15 per cent were European Economic Area (EEA) nationals or had European residence rights
4.2.5. 13 per cent had an asylum claim recorded
4.3. It is difficult to get definitive data on the undocumented population nationally due to the lack of consistent data recorded on those who are not currently within the immigration system. Data published by the Mayor of London in 2019 has estimated that there are around 215,000 undocumented children in the UK. The last research into the population of undocumented children within the UK prior to this was undertaken in 2011, in which it was estimated that there were 120,000 undocumented children. Thus, the population of undocumented children has likely to have increased significantly. These data sources suggest that it has increased by over 56 per cent between 2011 and 2019.
4.4. Data from the NRPF Network shows showed that support provided by 66 local authorities included:
4.4.1. the average number of days councils supported families was 629 days
4.4.2. 82 per cent for family households left council support due to a grant of leave to remain, enabling them to access mainstream benefits and housing, and/or employment.
4.4.3. 27 per cent of ‘unresolved / non EEA’ family and adult households have been supported for over 1000 days, with the average time on support for the ‘1000 day’ cases being 1932 days (5 years and 4 months).
4.4.4. 2450 households were supported at an annual cost of £44 million at year end, at an average cost of £15,592 per family.
5.1 Data also from the NRPF Network shows that 1578 of the family households receiving support at the end of March 2021:
5.1.1. 529 dependants were recorded as British citizens, making up 18 per cent of the total number of dependants.
5.1.2. 381 households had at least one British dependant in the household, representing 24 per cent of all family households financially supported.
5.2 In 3137 of the family households that requested or were referred for support between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021:
5.2.1. 1,162 dependants were recorded as British citizens, making up 22 per cent of the total number of dependants.
5.2.2. 753 households had at least one British dependant in the household, representing 24 per cent of all family households referred.
6.2. Local authorities play an essential role in preventing homelessness and alleviating destitution by providing housing and financial support to families who have NRPF. For immigration purposes, ‘public funds’ are limited to most benefits and housing assistance. Support for families with NRPF can be provided by Children’s Services when statutory duties are engaged to safeguard the welfare of a child in need (s17 Children Act 1989). A child will be in need if they are homeless or when their parents are unable to provide for their basic living and/or housing needs. Section 17 allows for accommodation to be provided to the family in order to meet a child’s needs arising from their parent’s lack of resources as a consequence of having no recourse to public funds. Local authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also able to provide such intervention (s37 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, s22 Children (Scotland) Act 1995 &Article 18 Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995).
6.3. The Courts have been very clear about the purpose of section 17, stating: ‘The local authority is empowered to rescue a child in need from destitution where no other state provision is available.' See: AC & SH v London Borough of Lambeth Council  EWHC 1796.
6.4. Although the provision of local authority support is recognised by the UK Government and courts as being an essential safety-net for people with NRPF, councils are not reimbursed for the significant costs incurred when support is provided.
6.5. As well as supporting children within families with NRPF, local authorities also have statutory duties to support adults with care needs and former looked after children who qualify for leaving care support until age 21 or 25. When children who are in local authority care reach 18 years old, children’s services will be required to continue to provide accommodation and financial support up until age 21 or 25 (dependent upon whether the young person is in education or training) when leaving care duties apply and the care leaver has not obtained a form of immigration status allowing them to access benefits. Supporting all groups with no recourse to public funds cost 68 local authorities £57 million at the end of March 2021, according to NRPF Network data.
6.6. In England, funded childcare for two-year-olds is available to children when the parent has leave to remain with NRPF granted on family or private life grounds; is the primary carer of a British child; is accessing Section 4 support as an appeal rights exhausted asylum seeker; or is in receipt of section 17 support from the local authority.
6.7. This leaves many families with NRPF living in the community who are unable to access this support, including those that do not have lawful status and are not carers of a British child; those with leave to remain with NRPF on other immigration routes, such as UK Ancestry or Hong Kong BN(O); and EEA nationals with pre-settled status who are not in receipt of a qualifying benefit. Following recent litigation which has expanded access to this childcare support for families with NRPF, there may also be families who are not yet aware of their new entitlements and have not accessed them on this basis.
6.8. When both parents in a household, or a solo parent, has leave to remain with NRPF, the extended childcare provision for three to four-year olds or tax-free childcare for working parents will not be available.
6.9. The cost of childcare can be a prohibitive factor in enabling a parent to undertake employment. Gaps in childcare provision are likely to lead to negative developmental impacts on children within ineligible households and may prevent some families from being able to sustain an income through employment, putting them at risk of destitution and in need of support from the local authority, and hindering social integration.
6.10. The NRPF condition is, by definition, a restriction on financial support. In early 2021, the Greater London Authority (GLA) commissioned the London School of Economics (LSE) to examine the impact on removing the NRPF condition and thereby providing financial support for those on a route to long-term settlement in the UK, through a robust cost benefit assessment. The final report can be shared with the Committee when it is published later in Autumn 2021.
6.11. A recent study funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that migrant families are over-represented among those experiencing destitution in the UK, with almost half (46 per cent) of destitute migrant households reporting having no immediate source of income when the research was conducted, compared to one-third (32 per cent) of all destitute households. As part of this research, the Greater London Authority (GLA) funded a sample boost enabling the calculation and reporting of statistical findings at a London level. The report showed that over 30 per cent of the people experiencing destitution in London were migrants, and that 84 per cent of destitute migrants in London receive no in-kind support, such as support from friends and family, local welfare schemes, food banks or other emergency support services.
6.12. Whilst the UK Government continues to extend the use of the NRPF condition, including through the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently making its way through parliament, and prevents some EEA nationals from being able to access means-tested benefits, it is likely that the number of children experiencing poverty due to being in NRPF households will increase.
7.2. Discretionary welfare payments made by councils in England, Scotland & Northern Ireland under specific legislation are classed as ‘public funds’ for immigration purposes. Therefore, there has not always been clarity for local authorities regarding how these funds can be delivered to residents with NRPF and, as a result, basic emergency assistance may not have reached all residents in need. Some councils have attempted to find ways to open up emergency support to people with NRPF, such as by drawing on charitable grants, and are considering how they can best meet the needs of residents in this position in service planning.
7.3. Throughout the pandemic, local authorities delivered emergency support, such as food vouchers, to residents through their local welfare funds. Some of this support was funded through government grants, such as the Department for Work and Pensions Covid Winter Grant Scheme and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Emergency Assistance Grant.
7.4. However, for those with NRPF, both grants appeared to be restricted to those with additional care needs that did not arise solely from destitution, with local authorities advised to “use their judgement to decide what legal powers and funding can be used to support individuals who are ineligible for public funds or statutory housing assistance”.
7.5. The Test and Trace Support payment guidance was explicitly set up to enable councils to make payments to people with NRPF, although the grey area about the subsequent impact of receiving support from public funds was never really resolved. It was left to the discretion of councils to communicate this to individual applicants. Councils and local partners have indicated that this did cause confusion and a lack of awareness that the support was available for those with NRPF, leading to those with NRPF not applying where they may have been otherwise eligible. This required additional resources locally to work through understanding what could be provided, alongside a potential lack of consistency in what was then provided locally across different areas.
7.6. During the pandemic, local authorities called on the Government to suspend NRPF to enable them to fully support those within the community facing destitution without barriers.
8.2. In England, free school meals are not available to all low-income households where the parent has NRPF. They are only available to children when the parent has leave to remain with NRPF granted on family or private life grounds, is the primary carer of a British child, or is in receipt of section 17 support from the local authority.
8.3. This leaves families with NRPF living in the community who are unable to access this support, including those that do not have lawful status, those with leave to remain with NRPF on other immigration routes, such as UK Ancestry or Hong Kong BN(O), and EEA nationals with pre-settled status who are not in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
8.4. The eligibility criteria for Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women and parents with young children has been recently extended to include parents with NRPF and a low-income, who meet the financial criteria for welfare benefits and have a British child under four-years-old. However, it is not yet clear whether this is a temporary or longer-term change and there are ongoing issues around informing families who are now eligible. Healthy Start vouchers are not currently available to other families with NRPF who do not have a British child in the household.
8.5. The pandemic exposed the need for such vital services to be made available to children in low-income households regardless of their parent’s immigration status, alongside the importance of being clear on access and entitlements to local partners.
8.6. For families living in the community who do not meet the current qualifying criteria, the lack of access to free school meals adds to pressures on household budgets. Rather than reverting to the original qualifying criteria, the Government needs to consider maintaining and extending the current eligibility requirements for all children in low-income households.
9.2. Please see answers 5.1 – 5.3
9.3. Additionally, when children who are in local authority care reach 18 years old, children’s services are required to continue to provide accommodation and financial support up until age 21 or 25 (if the young person is in education or training) when leaving care duties apply and the care leaver has not obtained a form of immigration status allowing them to access benefits.
9.4. The NRPF Network project manages the NRPF Connect database, used voluntarily by 70 local authorities in England and Scotland to obtain immigration status information from the Home Office when a family with no recourse to public funds requests, or is provided with, local authority support, and to assist effective service delivery and case resolution. Although the provision of local authority support is recognised by the UK Government and courts as being an essential safety-net for people with no recourse to public funds, councils are not reimbursed for the significant costs incurred when support is provided.
9.5. Data from NRPF Connect shows that at the end of March 2021, 67 local authorities in England and Scotland were providing 1,636 families with accommodation and financial support to safeguard the welfare of a child in need, at a collective annual cost of £26.8 million. The number of families receiving support increased by 25 per cent compared to the previous year end. Between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, 3,273 families requested or were referred for support.
9.6. As it is likely that the local authority will only be approached once informal or charitable support in the community has been exhausted, this figure can only represent the 'tip of the iceberg' in terms of wider need. The costs recorded on NRPF Connect are limited to accommodation and financial support and do not include additional costs incurred by a local authority, such as resourcing specialist staff or commissioning immigration advice.
10.2. Additionally, throughout the pandemic, local authorities have been supporting people at risk of rough sleeping who have no recourse to public funds without the full costs always being met by central government.
10.3. The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping 2021 also flagged the impact of the condition and the emergency support available during the pandemic on destitute individuals in communities.
10.4. There is evidence of the likelihood of increased demand on children’s services as a result of the pandemic including issues related to domestic abuse, mental health, poverty and substance misuse, the most common reasons for children and families needing help from children’s social care.
10.5. The ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research provides qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of children’s social care and associated services over time. Its phase 7 report includes a focus on activity in the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
10.6. Councils’ support for destitute families with NRPF also needs to be placed in the context of current pressures in children’s services. Unfortunately, despite councils protecting and even increasing children’s social care budgets at the expense of other services, the dual impact of significant cuts to council budgets over the last decade and increasing demand for child protection services prior to the pandemic has had significant impacts on children services’ budgets.
10.7. Rising demand for services means that despite budgets for children’s social care in England rising by more than half a billion pounds in 2019/20 from the previous year, more than eight in 10 councils were still forced to overspend to ensure children were protected. In addition, Councils urgently need funding to invest in the preventative services that their local children and families need, so that we can make sure help is available when it’s first needed and not later down the line when the situation has reached crisis point.
10.8. The LGA has called for a cross-Government strategy for children and young people to ensure they are at the heart of the national recovery and can thrive, no matter where they are from.
10.1 The fact that NRPF Network data above shows that one fifth of families requesting local authority support had leave to remain, that is subject to the NRPF condition, serves as evidence of the financial hardship experienced by people living in the UK with this immigration status, who are often on routes to settlement.
10.2 Although one fifth of people requesting local authority support had leave to remain with NRPF, only 5 per cent of the family households that were receiving support at the end of March 2021 had this type of immigration status. This indicates that the change of conditions process provides an opportunity for the family’s situation of destitution to be resolved relatively quickly following their presentation to the local authority, reducing the need for support to be provided.
10.3 However, the process does not fully mitigate the effects of destitution, as the speed at which the condition may be lifted depends on the availability of immigration advice, the applicant providing sufficient evidence of their circumstances, and Home Office processing times.
10.4 Additionally, the change of conditions process is not available to all families who have leave to remain with NRPF, such as people with a UK Ancestry visa, leaving some families without the opportunity to gain access to benefits in this way if they lose their income or employment. When such families qualify for local authority support, their need for this could be open-ended.