Councils Demand Suspension of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ Policy
In an attempt to protect vulnerable migrants from destitution and homelessness, local authorities have called on the government to suspend the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition for the duration of the pandemic.
Persons with NRPF are prevented from accessing mainstream benefits, leaving them dangerously exposed to the economic impact of COVID-19.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA), councils have been inundated with emergency support requests in recent weeks as many struggle to cope with the impact of job losses.
Although Tier 2 Visa holders are legally permitted to work in the UK, the NRPF condition leaves them without a safety net in the event of unemployment. Many migrants who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 are struggling to feed their children, and face losing their homes once the current restrictions on evictions are lifted.
Since the lockdown was first implemented in March, charities up and down the country have played a monumental role in helping those affected by these issues.
Homelessness charities are warning of a dramatic rise in the numbers of homeless NRPF migrants, as many have been unable to pay the rent since losing their jobs. Although the eviction ban means it is currently illegal for landlords to force tenants out, many migrants with informal tenancies have lost their homes anyway.
In an attempt to prevent homelessness, local authorities have been given special dispensation to house destitute migrants in hotels for the duration of the pandemic. However, there is no long term plan in place to prevent homelessness from becoming an issue once lockdown ends and hotels return to being used by tourists.
The LGA has asked the government for more information on how they can provide assistance to destitute NRPF migrants. According to an LGA spokesperson, the suspension of the NRPF condition would allow benefits to be accessed and homelessness to be averted:
“Councils have been doing everything they can to support all groups facing homelessness. Councils are now planning their next steps in supporting people to move on from emergency accommodation. A temporary removal of the NRPF condition would reduce public health risks and pressures on homelessness services by enabling vulnerable people to access welfare benefits.”
The ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition was first introduced in 2012 as part of the government’s wider package of ‘Hostile Environment’ measures designed to deter ‘irregular migration’. NRPF has been widely criticised for the way it leaves migrants acutely vulnerable to destitution and homelessness.
The LGA’s call to suspend the condition follows demands from an alliance of 40 migrants’ rights organisations for it to be scrapped permanently. The demands are made on the grounds that it ‘bars most migrants from accessing a vast proportion of the social security net we all rely on in times of crisis”.
The benefits that are prohibited by the NRPF condition include child benefit, housing benefit, universal credit and access to mainstream refuges for victims of domestic violence.
The government has said that more than 3.2bn has been made available to local councils to help them mitigate the adverse effects of the ongoing lockdown measures. It has also stated that £750m has been provided to charities to enable them to continue to support the most vulnerable.
A spokesperson has also pointed out that many of the support measures that are in place due the pandemic are not deemed ‘public funds’, meaning they can be accessed by those with NRPF.
“Families with leave under family and human rights routes can apply, free of charge, to have no recourse to public funds conditions lifted and we encourage anyone eligible to submit an application. Government measures such as rent protections also apply to those with these conditions,” they said.
Yet the Home Office was unable to provide a definitive answer when asked how many migrants have been granted an NRPF exemption. According to the organisations that work with migrants in this situation, successfully applying for an extension is extremely difficult.
Sally Daghlian, chief executive of the migrant rights charity Praxis, had this to say:
“We have seen parents going without food to try to ensure their children eat, and people facing homelessness and mounting debt. In the face of this pandemic, people with NRPF have not been supported through the government’s Covid-19 safety net. If the government is committed to ending destitution, child poverty and homelessness, it should permanently suspend NRPF as a matter of urgency.”