Immigration policy change required to end rough sleeping

19 May 2020

Urgent change needed to achieve positive outcomes for people with no recourse to public funds

Councils have been leading responses to protect their residents and reduce public health risks during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. As part of this work, people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), who were rough sleeping, at risk of rough sleeping, or in living arrangements where they could not self-isolate, have been provided accommodation in line with the Government's strategy to protect vulnerable homeless groups.

On 2 May, the Government announced that a taskforce, led by Dame Louise Casey, will be set up to:

'..work hand-in-hand with councils across the country on plans to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over – ensuring as few people as possible return to life on the streets'.

Although the taskforce is likely to play a positive role, councils are acutely aware that, without significant policy change and funding to provide ongoing support, it will be extremely challenging to achieve positive step-down outcomes that prevent people with no recourse to public funds who have been accommodated during the pandemic from returning to rough sleeping.

Local government already has a lot of experience in establishing sustainable exit pathways for families and adults with care needs with no recourse to public funds who are supported by social services. Households are supported by social services for an average of 820 days, with 80% of households exiting support due to grants of leave to remain with recourse to public funds. The lack of legal aid, high immigration fees, and lengthy Home Office and appeal processes, all contribute to delays in obtaining a grant of leave to remain. EEA nationals need to apply to stay in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, but those who are only able to secure pre-settled status may not be able to claim benefits if they are unable to work. Identifying and assisting a person to achieve a positive exit pathway therefore requires significant staff expertise, time, and resources, with councils increasingly incurring additional costs by commissioning immigration advice to support these efforts.

Councils are not funded by central government to support people with no recourse to public funds when social services' duties are engaged, which costs at least £47.5 million per year. It is highly unlikely that government funding to support local government responses to the pandemic will be sufficient to cover the costs of supporting people who have been accommodated on public health grounds in addition to the other services councils are delivering to protect vulnerable residents during the crisis.

As well as the challenge of establishing exit pathways for people provided with accommodation as part of the emergency public health response, councils are reporting that residents with no recourse to public funds are requesting support following a sudden loss of employment or help from their support networks, as they are unable to access the safety-net offered by the Government through the benefits system. Where duties under the Children Act 1989 or Care Act 2014 are engaged, it will fall to social services to provide accommodation and financial support. Another difficulty arises where emergency assistance is provided to residents in need through the council's discretionary welfare scheme, which is classed as a public fund for immigration purposes. Food vouchers and other forms of emergency support may not be available to a person who is subject to the no recourse to public funds condition unless the Council can access alternative funding to administer this.

In order to enable councils to effectively reduce poverty and health inequalities, prevent people returning to rough sleeping, build resilient communities, and manage ongoing public health risks during the pandemic and subsequent recovery period, the Government needs to implement the policy recommendations that are set out below.

Policy recommendations

An urgent review of the impact of immigration-based exclusions is required, with particular consideration given to:

  • The removal of the NRPF condition to enable people at risk of destitution or homelessness to access benefits and housing.
  • Granting residence rights and access to public funds to people who are unlikely to ever leave the UK or be removed by the Home Office.
  • Providing EEA nationals who qualify for pre-settled status with full access to benefits without requiring them to be exercising a qualifying right to reside under EU law.
In the absence of any significant change to those policies, the Government needs to ensure that:

  • Ongoing funding, and clarity about legal powers, is provided to enable councils to continue to support people with no recourse to public funds who have been accommodated on public health grounds.
  • Provisions are made by the Home Office to prevent people whose leave to remain is due to expire from becoming overstayers because they are unable to apply for further leave during the pandemic, and fee waiver and change of conditions policies are amended to significantly reduce the evidential burden on applicants.
  • Home Office asylum support applications are processed quickly and accommodation is provided without delay when a person qualifies for this.
  • Local authority discretionary welfare assistance is removed from the list of public funds.
These concerns and recommendations have been raised in our submissions to the following parliamentary inquiries:

  • Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the Home Office’s preparations for and response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) - written evidence
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government committee inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on homelessness and the private rented sector - written evidence
Similar calls for change have been made by the local government associations in a letter to the Home Secretary, correspondence sent to ministers by the Mayor of London, and series of letters from over 50 voluntary sector organisations. 

For further information about supporting people with no recourse to public funds during the pandemic, see our factsheet