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What is the issue?

During the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, councils have led responses to protect their residents and have provided emergency accommodation to nearly 15,000 people who were rough sleeping or otherwise unable to comply with self-isolation requirements. The Government was clear when it announced its strategy to bring ‘everyone in’ that this included people who have no recourse to public funds.

However, there have been no changes to the policy to impose the 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF) condition on certain groups of migrants, or to the legislative powers and duties governing eligibility for benefits or council services. As a result, there exists a conflict between the necessity to undertake practical measures to reduce public health risks and the statutory framework governing ‘safety net’ support for people with no recourse to public funds, which remains unchanged. Councils now need to make difficult decisions about how far their public health response can stretch within existing funding and legislative constraints, whilst the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to put residents at risk of homelessness.

What needs to change

Recommendations for the Government:

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 European Economic Area (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.
  • Discretionary welfare payments (local welfare assistance) is removed from the list of public funds.

What we have done

We submitted written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the Home Office’s preparations for and response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus).

The Committee recommended that:

‘116 …The Government should immediately make arrangements for the temporary lifting of NRPF conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government should also direct local authorities to provide support where required by others who are destitute (or at risk of destitution) and who would otherwise be prohibited from accessing public funds, and it should provide funding to allow this to happen.

117. We also recommend that the Government reduce the evidential burden on individuals seeking changes in visa conditions or fee waivers as a consequence of the pandemic. It should ensure that clear guidance on the options and support available to individuals and families with NRPF conditions is consolidated and easily accessible on the Government website.’

We also submitted written evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on homelessness and the private rented sector.

The Committee recommended in its interim report that:

‘We appeal on humanitarian grounds for the Government to improve its support to councils for people with no recourse to public funds during this crisis, or hundreds will return to the streets with potentially disastrous consequences. We recommend that the Government should guarantee it will compensate councils for provision offered to rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds as a result of the current crisis. While the Government believes the legal position is clear, local authorities do not. In addition, we ask the Government to urgently publish guidance on councils’ use of discretion in these circumstances and clarify what people can or cannot claim when they have no recourse to public funds.’  

Submissions

Documents relating to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the Home Office’s preparations for and response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus):

Documents relating to the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on homelessness and the private rented sector: