Why is the Government ignoring the issue of No Recourse to Public Funds?
Updated: Mar 12
Imagine that four years ago you moved to the UK, gained right to remain, and started working at a local business. You rent a flat near your work and although you wish you had more money to save for a summer holiday, you are financially comfortable and able to provide for your family. Then a global pandemic hits, the business tells you that they would love to keep employing you, but it is currently financially untenable. They optimistically said in April 2020 that they hoped to hire you back in a few months, but nearly a year has gone past since then. You have been desperately searching for a new job but find that jobs available are limited and the number of people applying means that realistically you stand no chance. Your friend recommends applying for universal credit, but your immigration status means that you are ineligible. You start getting behind with your bills and rent payments and start worrying if this will mean you will end up without somewhere to live and on the street.
Sadly, an experience like this could happen to many people in our society who have no recourse to public funds.
What does no recourse to public funds mean?
No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is attached to most visas of non-EEA nationals’ migrants who have been in the UK for less than five years. People with NRPF are not eligible for standard financial support such as local authority homelessness assistance or most welfare benefits (such as Universal Credit, Child Benefit and Council Tax Reduction). Citizens Advice estimates that in 2020 there were 1.4 million people in the UK who had no recourse to public funds and of those 82% are from BAME backgrounds. Without the safety net of government support, these individuals are more at risk of becoming homeless and are not even eligible for state support if they become homeless.
The Coronavirus pandemic has put many people with NRPF in a desperate situation
The pandemic and lockdown have impacted everyone nationwide. However, research shows clearly that those with NRPF are facing particular difficulties. Citizens Advice has found a 91% year on year increase in the levels of advice given on NRPF issues. Citizens Advice highlights four key areas in which the pandemic is particularly impacting those who have NRPF:
1 ) Those with NRPF are dependent upon their income from working, and so frequently are unable to afford the costs of self-isolating or shielding.
2) Additionally, they are more likely to be working in industries which have been shut down in lockdown, and hence more likely to have been made redundant. Many are also on zero hours contracts and have had their work hours significantly reduced. This results in many people suddenly having a substantial reduction in income. Under UK immigration law, there is also a minimum income requirement of £18,600 a year which means for those who have had a significant reduction in their income over the pandemic they may be unable to renew their visa.
3) Following from this, there is a rising trend of those with NRPF struggling with debt, and in particular rent arrears. This is a serious concern given that they do not have access to social housing or housing association tenancies.
4) The lockdown has also meant that gathering evidence to change their NRPF status has become very difficult.
Government policy is making it harder for people with NRPF
For those who are homeless with NRPF the government’s current policy is confusing and inconsistent. Under the scheme “Everyone In”, the initiative to get all homeless people off the street, local councils could spend emergency funds on those with NRPF due to the state of the public health emergency. In July, the National Housing Federation reported that people with NRPF make up one-fifth (or 50% in London) of those in temporary accommodation due to Everyone in. Many of these individuals who have NRPF cannot be given support for moving out of this temporary accommodation. The Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee gave one such example of this:
“A young man called Abeo, who had no recourse to public funds but cannot be deported, for political reasons, found himself in accommodation, supported under the Everybody In project, but no one was offering him any other support. He felt that the Government would prefer him to die. He is in temporary accommodation at the moment, but he could be evicted any time soon, without the option of move-on accommodation.”
The government argues that councils can work with those with NRPF to reconnect them with friends and family to try and find accommodation, or to assist with returning to their home country if they choose to do so. However, the government policy has been so unclear that some councils are providing financial assistance while others are not creating a postcode lottery of provision. In December, Jamie Carswell (Director of Housing and Safer Communities for London Councils) commented:
“As we move further from a public health emergency, there is still a lack of clarity in the system on what is legal for local authorities to do. Even if it is legal, it means financial pressure at a time of extreme financial stress to local authorities. Just to pick up the strain of that in the system would feel very unrealistic.”
Moreover, despite an additional £10 million being provided for local councils to help deal with homelessness, it cannot be used to assist those with NRPF even though councils could support those individuals in the first lockdown. As a result of this, many individuals must solely rely on provision from charities, who are already under resourced in the pandemic.
Additionally, recent government policy has further increased the difficulties for those with NRPF. Firstly, at the start of December 2020 there was a change in immigration laws which means that rough sleeping can be given as a reason for cancelling an individual’s permission to stay in the UK. This puts significant pressure on these individuals not to get the help that they need from charities for fear of being deported. Secondly, the government has recently changed the definition of substantial rent arrears which previously protected those who had built up rent arrears over the pandemic.
How can you help?
One great way you can help is by writing to your MP on this issue, so that the government is aware that this is something their constituents are really concerned about. The government produces a guide which give you all the information you need on who your MP is and how you can write to them.
Another way is supporting charities who are helping those with NRPF. At Clothing Collective we work to provide vouchers for those in need to purchase their own clothes in charity shops. Through our partnership with charities such as St Mungos, your donations can be given to those in emergency accommodation with NRPF, so that they can have sufficient clothing. You can support us either by donating here or by sharing our blogs and following us on social media.
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