Written evidence submitted by Project 17

The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services inquiry

Project 17 response

 

26 March 2020

About Project 17

Project 17 is a specialist organisation working to reduce destitution among migrant families

with no access to mainstream benefits of social housing because of their immigration status

(No Recourse to Public Funds or ‘NRPF’). Most of our work tries to improve the

implementation of support from local authorities under section 17 of the Children Act 1989,

which gives local authorities powers to provide support for families with children in need

within their area. To this end, we carry our direct advice and advocacy work across London,

we provide training and support for other organisations assisting families with no recourse to

public funds, and we call for the improved implementation of support.

 

We are submitting evidence to this inquiry as we work with destitute families who are not entitled to mainstream welfare support and who, as a result of their children being ‘in need’, require support from local authority children’s services departments under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. 

 

Families with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF)

 

The families we work with are living in extreme poverty as they are unable to access most

mainstream welfare provision because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule. ‘No recourse

to public funds’ (NRPF) is a legal restriction that prevents some people from accessing non-

contributory welfare benefits and social housing, such as council housing and homelessness

support. ‘Public funds’ is a legal term defined under Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules.

The only welfare benefits that are not considered public funds are those based on national

insurance contributions. While a number of different groups have no recourse to public

funds, we work predominantly with undocumented families and families who have ‘limited leave to

remain’ but are subject to a no recourse to public funds restriction. Since July 2012, the

Home Office has been imposing NRPF conditions on parents who have been granted temporary leave to remain on the grounds of family and private life in the UK. Over 50,000 individuals with dependents had the NRPF condition applied to their limited leave to remain over a two-year period, up until 2016. Only a third of applications to remove these conditions—which can only be made by those with ‘limited leave to remain’—are successful, leaving many families without access to the welfare support they need.[1] The University of Wolverhampton and the Greater London Authority have estimated that there are 250,000 undocumented migrant children living in the UK.[2] Families with NRPF are particularly vulnerable to destitution and homelessness.[3]

 

The impact of COVID-19 on families with NRPF

 

We are deeply concerned that thousands of families with NRPF will be facing exceptional poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that, due to their exclusion from the support packages that have been announced by the government and their inability to access mainstream welfare support, their only safety net will be support from local authority Children’s Services. Issues we are seeing include:

 

 

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 imposes a general duty on local authorities to safeguard

and promote the welfare of “children in need” in their area. To fulfil this duty, section 17 gives

local authorities the power to provide support, including accommodation and financial

support, to families with “children in need”, even if they have no recourse to public funds.

The power under section 17 can be used to support the family as a whole and to promote

the upbringing of the child within the family unit. For families with ‘no recourse to public

funds’, section 17 functions as a vital safety net against destitution. However, with local authorities receiving no additional funding to provide such services, and high numbers of families requiring support[4], in practice it is very difficult for families to access this support. Last year, 65% of the families we worked with had already tried unsuccessfully to access support from a local authority before they came to us for help. The issues families face when trying to access support—including unlawful threats to take children into care, intimidation through the use of immigration and fraud officers, and misinformation—have been well documented.[5] With the current pressures on local authorities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will only be more difficult for families to access this essential support. Children’s Services departments, which are already significantly underfunded, will be inundated with requests for support, as well as dealing with the difficulties of local authority staff being off sick and the need to work remotely. In addition to difficulties accessing support, the support provided by local authorities under section 17 is often extremely inadequate. There is no statutory guidance on the provision of section 17 support for this purpose, which means support varies considerably across local authorities. Rates of financial support can be as low as £2 per person per day, and families in receipt of support are often forced to rely on food banks and support from charities.[6]

We are already seeing the impact of COVID-19 on families with NRPF who require support from Children’s Services. Issues we are encountering include:

Recommendations

  1. Central Government

 

 

  1. Local authorities

 

 

March 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Dexter, Z., Capron, L., and Gregg, L. (2016) Making Life Impossible: How the needs of destitute

migrant children are going unmet. London: The Children’s Society.

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/making-life-impossible.pdf

[2] https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/communities/migrants-and-refugees/londons-children-and-young-people-who-are-not-british-citizens

[3] See: Dexter, Z., Capron, L., and Gregg, L. (2016) Making Life Impossible: How the needs of destitute

migrant children are going unmet. London: The Children’s Society.

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/making-life-impossible.pdf ; Dickson, E. (2019) Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s Experiences of the Hostile Environment. London. Project 17 https://www.project17.org.uk/media/70571/Not-seen-not-heard-1-.pdf

[4] An estimated 5,900 children from families with NRPF across England and Wales received this support in 2012-13 (Price & Spencer, 2015).

[5] See Dexter, Z., Capron, L., and Gregg, L. (2016) Making Life Impossible: How the needs of destitute

migrant children are going unmet. London: The Children’s Society.

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/making-life-impossible.pdf ; Dickson, E. (2019) Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s Experiences of the Hostile Environment. London. Project 17; Jolly, A. (2018) No Recourse to Social Work? Statutory Neglect, Social Exclusion and Undocumented Migrant Families in the UK. Social Inclusion, 6 (3). https://www.cogitatiopress.com/socialinclusion/article/view/1486

[6] Ibid.