Campaigners urge councils to provide sanctuary to homeless people with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF)

More than a hundred charities, campaign groups, lawyers and local councillors have urged local councils not to evict homeless people with NRPF from emergency accommodation provided through the Covid-19 homelessness response. People experiencing homelessness are significantly more likely to suffer some form of mental or physical health problem.

The open letter, signed by charities including Refugee Action, Praxis, JCWI and the Big Issue Foundation, also asks councils to promise not to share homeless people’s information with the Home Office without their consent.

The signatories to the letter want local authorities to publicly lobby Home Secretary Priti Patel for an end to the ‘no recourse to public funds (NRPF)’ system. NRPF is a condition that prevents some migrants from accessing welfare benefits and social housing.

As a result of NRPF rules, overstretched local authorities have had to meet the financial burden of supporting homeless migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic. People with no recourse to public funds make up more than half of the rough sleeping population in some areas of the UK. There are fears that, as lockdown measures are eased, many migrants with NRPF will be evicted from emergency accommodation and forced to return to the streets.

Some councils, including Hackney and Cambridge City Council, have already called for an end to NRPF and criticised the government for not giving local authorities enough funding or legal powers to support all homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the Local Government Association (LGA) called for a suspension of no recourse to public fund

Benjamin Morgan, coordinator of the EEA homeless rights project at the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), said: “If the government is not willing to protect migrant lives during and after this public health crisis, then local councils must be prepared to take a stand against the ‘hostile environment’ by offering sanctuary. Nobody should be forced to sleep rough for want of the right papers.”

Haringey Migrant Support Centre said: “We are braced for a further increase in rough sleeping as the effects of Covid – job losses, debt, evictions – further entrench inequalities in our communities. Migrants are particularly exposed to the racialised violence that is endemic among government institutions such as the Home Office. Local authorities have the power to mitigate the most harmful effects that impact migrants and should adopt anti-racist solutions: demand the abolition of NRPF policy and practice; commit to no data sharing; provide sanctuary.”

EMMAUS UK said: “Emmaus UK strongly believes that no-one should be without a safe place to stay, least of all during the Covid-19 crisis. It is vital that the government commits to providing ongoing funding to ensure that anyone threatened with homelessness has access to appropriate housing, regardless of their immigration status.”

Cllr Alan Hall said: “People should not be left destitute in a civilised society. Local Councils have had to use all their legal powers to find homes, feed children and provide subsistence during Covid-19. They hold the budget of last resort.” “Boris Johnson looked shocked and surprised when he was told this – he should end the cruelty of NRPF now. I am asking people to sign the open letter here:

In Lewisham, there has been a NRPF scheme since 2014. This has been the subject of scrutiny and legal challenge. More recently, an independent assessment reported that local community groups found among the clients that they had worked with, there were historic reports of a “hostile” approach being adopted by the NRPF team and an over-emphasis on credibility. There was a sense amongst these groups that the service had sought to discredit clients rather than assess need.

Boris Johnson comes under scrutiny

The full text of the letter:

We are writing to urge your local authority to commit to providing ongoing shelter and support to all those experiencing or at risk of homelessness during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, and to do so regardless of immigration status.

We are also asking you to join us in publicly calling on the government to end the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) regime, which exposes many people living in the UK to destitution, including rough sleeping.

We recognise that councils are operating under extremely challenging conditions due to the pandemic. We are also aware that a decade of austerity, combined with a loss of revenue as a result of ‘lockdown’ measures, has placed local-authority budgets under severe strain.

It is clear that central government has not provided sufficient funding to local authorities to support homeless people during this crisis. This has been compounded by the failure of MHCLG to provide guidance on what legal powers councils should use to support those who would not normally be eligible for assistance. The NRPF condition, which restricts some migrants’ access to welfare benefits, has placed the burden of supporting such people on overstretched local authorities.

As a result, and despite the efforts of some councils, many homeless people, particularly those with NRPF, remain without shelter during this pandemic. Others have experienced unacceptable ‘gatekeeping’ or have received inadequate support once accommodated. Some people with insecure immigration status have been told by councils that their information may be shared with the Home Office for immigration-enforcement purposes.

As lockdown measures are eased, we are extremely concerned that some homeless people, particularly those with NRPF, may be evicted from council-provided accommodation and be forced to return to destitution. This would be a moral, humanitarian and public health catastrophe, especially given that many shelters will be unable to reopen due to ongoing social distancing requirements.

As you will be aware, the homelessness minister recently confirmed that the legal position on support for people with NRPF ‘has not changed’, suggesting that councils should make use of ‘voluntary repatriation’. We are deeply concerned by these announcements.

Nobody should be forced to sleep rough, regardless of their immigration status. Nobody should be forced to leave the country they call ‘home’.

In light of the above, we are asking your local authority to take the following steps:

  1. Commit to continuing to support everybody who is, or is at risk of, sleeping rough, and to do so regardless of immigration status. This commitment must include assurances that nobody will be evicted from temporary accommodation provided through the pandemic response unless and until suitable long-term housing has been found for them.
  2. Urgently and publicly advocate to central government for the removal of all NRPF restrictions, including those that apply to undocumented migrants and EEA citizens without a qualifying right to reside, to ensure that everyone can access shelter and meet their basic needs during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
  3. Provide assurances that homeless people’s data will never be shared with the Home Office without their informed consent and that nobody will be offered ‘voluntary return’ or ‘reconnection’ to their country of origin as a ‘single service offer’.

We are grateful to those local authorities who have already signalled their wish to ensure that nobody is forced to return to the street. However, in these extraordinary circumstances, further efforts are required to uphold everybody’s right to shelter, regardless of immigration status.

We look forward to hearing from you and to continuing to work with you around this issue. Please send your response to advocacy@haringeymsc.org

Yours sincerely,


Refugee Action
JCWI
Praxis
Doctors of the World
The Big Issue Foundation
Migrants Rights’ Network
City of Sanctuary UK
WeBelong
Emmaus UK
Migrant Voice
UKLGIGHelp Refugees/Choose Love
Project 17
Just Fair
Maternity Action
Right to Remain
Labour Homelessness Campaign
Labour Campaign for Free Movement
AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees)
Public Interest Law Centre
Museum of Homelessness
Streets Kitchen
Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
Simon Community
South London Refugee Association
PLOD Foundation
Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust, Mayor of Camden
Cllr Jumbo Chan, (Kensal Green Ward)
Cllr Alan Hall, (Bellingham Ward)
Cllr Soraya Adejare, (Dalston)
Cllr Gail Macenna, (Haverstock)
Jack Jeffery Unite Housing Branch Secretary and others

Note to editors:
The open letter has been coordinated by homelessness and migrants’ rights groups including Museum of Homelessness, Haringey Migrant Support Centre (HMSC), Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), Paper Cup Project and Labour Homelessness Campaign.

You can sign the open letter here

In the news: Morning Star Independent

Members of Parliament have joined the clamour for ‘no-one to be left out’ by signing a letter to Robert Jenrick, MP the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government see:

MPs join the clamour

Leave a Reply