The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published information for councils in England about the Hong Kong welcome programme, which includes £16 million funding that councils can claim when destitution support has been provided to people on the Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) - BN(O) - visa route. Separate funding will be made available in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Hong Kong BN(O) visa holders are subject to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition. Although the Home Office has introduced a Change of Conditions process to enable a Hong Kong BN(O) visa holder to apply for the NRPF condition to be lifted when they are destitute or at risk of destitution, there is still a risk that the person or family may become homeless or have insufficient income to provide for their daily living needs whilst the Change of Conditions application is being made. As a consequence, people with no recourse to public funds who are on this visa route may approach their local council for homelessness prevention advice, accommodation and financial support, or other assistance to address their situation of destitution.
Councils can claim funding for up to £2,720 per household when destitution support has been provided. ‘Destitution support’ is described as follows:
'It will be for each local authority to decide what assistance can be provided to BN(O) status holders and their families based upon an individual assessment of a person or household’s status, circumstances and support needs. Where a local authority considers that assistance is appropriate, the local authority should satisfy itself that it is acting within the law.'
The funding guidance circulated to chief executives on 29 July 2021 should be referred to for full details of the eligibility criteria, how to make a claim, and a copy of the claim form.
Funding must be claimed for retrospectively on a quarterly basis. In order to claim the funding, councils must confirm that they have seen evidence that the individual or household is destitute or at imminent risk of destitution. When statutory duties or discretionary powers are engaged to provide accommodation and financial support, such investigations are likely to have already been carried out as part of the assessment process to determine eligibility for assistance, so this should not be an onerous requirement. Councils using the NRPF Connect database can easily monitor any accommodation and financial support costs that are accrued by recording financial information on the system.
MHCLG states that the welcome programme aims to ‘ensure that any instances of destitution and underemployment in the BN(O) status holder cohort is minimised and addressed through effective support’. The funding for councils is likely to go some way to relieve any additional pressures on services that may arise when accommodation and financial support is provided to Hong Kong BN(O) households who are destitute or at risk of homelessness. However, it is possible that funding may not always meet the total costs a council has incurred when such support is provided. The cap on funding per household equates to about eight weeks of accommodation and financial support (based on our national data), and it appears that funding can only be claimed for assistance provided up until the point that the NRPF condition is lifted, although support may need to continue until benefits are accessed. Additionally, existing gaps in entitlements for people with no recourse to public funds increase the risk that Hong Kong BN(O) visa holders could fall into destitution. For example, children in Hong Kong BN(O) households that are subject to the NRPF condition will not qualify for free school meals or some funded childcare schemes under current rules, leaving working families with a low income at risk of experiencing financial hardship, or destitution if employment cannot be sustained.
We encourage councils to submit claims for the support that they provide to people on the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route in line with the guidance. As the funding will be kept under review, MHCLG should also be informed of any costs incurred beyond the thresholds specified in the guidance, so that additional pressures are evidenced and can be considered.
Councils may also get in touch with their regional Strategic Migration Partnership lead in order to make them aware of any issues or queries that arise regarding the funding for destitution support.
For more information about what services people with no recourse to public funds, including those on the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route, can and cannot access, see our information on rights and entitlements.