Supporting destitute migrants who will be granted leave to remain costs councils £63 million 

26 June 2018

New approach needed to deciding immigration claims for people with NRPF in social services’ support
 
Local authorities play a vital role in alleviating migrant destitution by providing housing and financial support to families and vulnerable adults who are excluded from mainstream welfare benefits due to their immigration status. Support for people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) is administered by social services in adherence with safeguarding duties set out in the Children Act 1989 and the Care Act 2014. Equivalent legislation applies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The courts have consistently recognised that this safety net is an essential mechanism to rescue a child in need from destitution where no other state provision is available, and its existence means that the government has legitimately excluded specific groups of migrants from accessing mainstream welfare benefits and housing assistance.

Although the need for social services' support primarily exists due to exclusionary immigration policies, its provision is not funded by central government, leaving councils to fully bear the costs. 

Data on NRPF households supported by local authorities
Data from NRPF Connect shows that providing this essential safety net to support 2552 NRPF households with 4049 dependants costs 50 local authorities £43.5 million annually, with the average time a family or individual spends on support being just under 2.5 years, and 30% of these households being dependent on support for 1000 days or longer. 

However, two thirds of households will exit social services’ support following a grant of leave to remain with recourse to public funds, demonstrating that the majority of individuals or parents who are undocumented will ultimately be recognised as having the right to remain in the UK. Whilst supported by social services, they may be waiting for a decision on their immigration application or appeal, or may be at the end of an immigration process but are not subject to Home Office enforcement action. It is essential that under the UK's complex Immigration Rules, the right course of action is undertaken in order to successfully obtain leave to remain, but the limited availability of free legal advice, with immigration out of scope of legal aid, and multiple barriers to making an application, add to delays in case resolution.

Commentary
For over a decade, the NRPF Network has shared local authority best practice, improved partnership working with central government and established ways of easing the resource pressures arising from enacting duties that alleviate destitution and safeguard the welfare of children within families, young people leaving care and vulnerable adults. 

Implementation of the NRPF Connect database has been an important step towards achieving consistent communication with the Home Office in adherence with data protection requirements, whilst providing a reliable and secure means for the Home Office to identify and prioritise cases. In 2010, the Secretary of State confirmed that cases involving applicants who are supported by local authorities would be prioritised, and that decision making processes would be reviewed having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK, including timely decision making

Although the cost and administration of NRPF support has been better controlled through effective partnership working between the Home Office and local authorities, it is not acceptable for local government to spend £63 million funding what has effectively become a second-tier welfare state for people who will eventually be recognised as having a long-term future in the UK through grants of leave to remain on settlement routes.

We now urge the Government to review the data and take a new approach to case resolution. The positives of partnership working cannot be realised without equally ensuring quick case resolution and reviewing immigration policies that may hinder this process. Given the number of households that have been dependent on social services’ support for longer than three years, and the fact that the majority will end up being granted leave to remain with recourse, an immediate response needs to be taken that bypasses existing application and appeal processes, and which recognises the length of residency and ties to the UK that have been established by many of these individuals and families. A wider concern is that prosperous and safe communities cannot be achieved if, due to their insecure immigration status, a significant proportion of residents are economically disadvantaged, unable to effectively integrate, and are forced to rely on the safety net provided by social services at considerable expense to the taxpayer. 

In the absence of a change in approach, the Government must consider reimbursement in order to allow local authorities to continue to effectively operate this safety net at a time when they are experiencing severe financial pressures across all services. 

We are working with the Local Government Association (LGA) to raise this with the Government. Local authority practitioners are encouraged to ensure their council leaders are aware of these issues. 

Further information 
The data referred to in this article is taken from the NRPF Connect annual report 2017-18. The database is now used by 53 local authorities nationally. ​

Please contact us if you require further information.