Government policy changes needed to end homelessness and eradicate child poverty
In order to end homelessness and eradicate child poverty, the government needs to:
In this section we set out what the issues are for people with no recourse to public funds, how the government can reduce the impact of immigration policies on child poverty, destitution and homelessness if the necessary change is not forthcoming, and what we are doing to help achieve change.
It is not possible to end homelessness or eradicate child poverty in the UK whilst people are denied access to benefits and housing assistance due to their immigration status. People with no recourse to public funds are unable to rely on the safety-net provided by the benefits system and local authority housing services if they experience a loss of income or homelessness.
The Migration Observatory reported that at the end of 2022, 2.58 million people held valid visa types that typically have a ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition. Additionally, an unknown number of people are living in the UK without leave to remain and people who have been granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme do not have an automatic entitlement to means-tested benefits.
The widespread use of the NRPF condition and restrictions on access to means-tested benefits for people with pre-settled status put people at risk of destitution and homelessness when they cannot support themselves and their families through employment or with the assistance of friends, families, and communities.
Social care services play an essential role in preventing homelessness for destitute families and adults with care needs who have no recourse to public funds. However, such assistance is not funded by the UK government and is often only accessed when people have exhausted their resources and support networks.
Although government funding provided to housing services in England to end rough sleeping can be drawn on to support people with no recourse to public funds, the legislative framework does not provide everyone who is ineligible for local authority housing assistance with an entitlement to statutory support, leaving people who do not have children or social care needs, including victims of domestic abuse, without access to accommodation.
As well as being denied access to most benefits, people with no recourse to public funds cannot access many services that are intended to promote the welfare of children, help people to sustain employment (when they have permission to work), or address cost of living pressures, including when they are working and paying taxes. The UK government recognised that all disadvantaged children need access to free school meals and early years education and therefore extended entitlement to free school meals and 15 hours early education for 2-year-old children in low-income households with no recourse to public funds. However, many services remain unavailable to individuals and families with no recourse to public funds.
Services that people who are subject to the NRPF condition cannot access include:
People who are subject to the NRPF condition also experience additional pressures on their household budgets due to their need to raise high application fees (including the NHS surcharge) to extend their visas. A person on the 10-year settlement route, will need to pay £2,608 every 2.5 years and £2,885 for indefinite leave to remain. This additional pressure, taken alongside the other restrictions that people who are subject to a NRPF condition experience, serves to impede the integration of children and adults who have been accepted by the Home Office has having a right to settle in the UK. Although people on the family and private life routes can apply for a fee waiver if they are destitute or can demonstrate that they cannot afford the fee, this process can be difficult to make successfully, particularly if the person is unable to get legal advice.
Home Office transparency data shows that in 2022, the NRPF condition was lifted in just under 2000 instances following applications made by people on the family, private life or Hong Kong BN(O) routes who were accepted by the Home Office as being destitute or at risk of destitution. Although applying for a change of conditions may help some people to avoid homelessness if the NRPF condition is lifted before they reach crisis point, only a small number of people successfully gain access to benefits through this process. The change of conditions process does not always adequately protect individuals and families from experiencing financial hardship, homelessness, or the long-term impacts of living in the UK with no recourse to public funds, and does not eliminate the need for councils to provide accommodation and financial support when this is necessary to safeguard the welfare of a child or adult with care needs.
Access to good quality legal advice is necessary for people to navigate the UK’s complex immigration rules and to make appropriate and well-evidenced applications to obtain leave to remain or sustain their lawful status in the UK. However, following the removal of legal aid in England and Wales for most immigration cases in 2013, immigration advice is not available to people who cannot afford private solicitor fees or access limited free advice provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. A report commissioned by Refugee Action found that there is a deficit between the need for immigration and asylum legal advice and the provision available in every part of England and Wales. The lack of immigration advice provision creates an additional barrier for people who need to regularise their immigration status or who need to make timely applications to protect their lawful status in the UK.
Whilst people continue to be restricted from accessing benefits and local authority housing assistance due to their immigration status, the following changes by government would go some way to reduce the impact of immigration policies on child poverty, destitution and homelessness.
Throughout the last decade we have provided evidence to parliamentary committees and All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiries, and government consultations demonstrate the impacts individuals and councils experience the NRPF condition. Following their inquiries, parliamentarians have made recommendations relating to immigration policy and the entitlements of people who are subject to a NRPF condition.
In 2018 the APPG for ending homelessness recommended that the NRPF condition is not imposed on people with children under 18 and some other groups. We provided written evidence to the APPG’s inquiry.
In June 2020, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that the government should immediately for the temporary lifting of NRPF conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, following its inquiry into the Home Office’s preparations for and response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus). Read our written evidence to the inquiry.
Following its inquiry into children in poverty with no recourse to public funds, in April 2022, the Work and Pensions Committee recommended that, as the abolition of the NRPF condition is unlikely, other measures, including permanently extending free school meals and extending 15-hours free childcare to all 2-year-olds in low-income no recourse to public funds households, and allowing parents with British children to claim child benefit, are necessary. Since the inquiry took place, free school meals and 15-hours free childcare to all 2-year-olds have been made permanently available to children in no recourse to public funds households. We provided oral evidence and written evidence to the inquiry.
Most recently, we have provided written and oral evidence to the joint APPG on Poverty and APPG on Migration inquiry into the effects of UK immigration, asylum and refugee policy on poverty. A report by the APPGs is expected in early 2024.