Government must support people who have no recourse to public funds

Government must support people who have no recourse to public funds

At the end of last week, the government announced an extension of the evictions ban to 23 August. Whilst this decision is welcome, government has still fallen short of implementing crucial protections needed to help prevent families from being evicted and becoming homeless once the evictions ban is lifted.

One key area of government inaction pertains to a shocking restriction known as ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF). This condition bars many from accessing vital housing support.

This condition is forced on people with certain types of immigration status. And at the end of last month, Stephen Timms MP (the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee) highlighted to Boris Johnson that this condition is preventing many, including those required to pay taxes, from accessing Universal Credit as well as statutory homelessness assistance.

The prime minister seemed surprised by the fact that people who need help are denied access to support. He subsequently stated that ‘people who’ve worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another.’

Government must act now by lifting the unjust NRPF condition which puts many at risk of eviction and homelessness come the end of August.

Who is affected by the no recourse to public funds condition?

When Stephen Timms raised the urgent issue of NRPF with the Prime Minister he did so with specific reference to people who have limited leave to remain in England and have a NRPF condition attached to their visa.

It is estimated that there are at least a million adults and a hundred thousand children who may be affected by this condition and so are unable to access financial support, even during the pandemic.

But the NRPF regime is broader than this. Legislation prevents anyone who is ‘subject to immigration control’ from accessing public funds. So anyone without regularised immigration status, including many who are waiting for a decision from the Home Office or are European Economic Area (EEA) nationals, are also unable to access mainstream public funds.

The number of people impacted by the NRPF regime is something that should be of deep concern, especially when considering its devastating impacts.

The consequences of NRPF

Migrants’ rights organisations have long warned of the severe consequences of the NRPF regime. People are experiencing abject poverty and being forced into overcrowded housing in order to avoid homelessness. In other cases, people face street homelessness.

These are consequences of NRPF that we also see in our services.

They are intolerable in any context. But at a time of a global pandemic where public health guidance urges people to stay at home, this consequence of the NRPF condition could have potentially fatal health consequences.

Why does the NRPF regime put people at risk of homelessness?

For renters with leave to remain who have NRPF, if they lose their job or face a loss in hours then they are unable to rely on Universal Credit, imperfect as it is.

This is a constant risk for renters with NRPF. But, it is an acute risk right now given the job losses and loss of income that have resulted from the government’s lockdown measures.

Though the prime minister said last week that the Job Retention Scheme ‘may’ be a source of financial support at this time, many renters with NRPF will not be eligible as they will not have been furloughed.

All this means that renters with NRPF who have faced job losses or a reduction in hours are unlikely to have the financial assistance required from government to help them cover their rent.

Rent arrears, eviction, and an inability to afford alternative accommodation are all likely consequences. Evictions are especially likely in the current context if government lifts the existing ban on evictions after August 23 without taking necessary steps to protect renters from evictions because of coronavirus.

Worse still, the NRPF condition means that if people do lose their homes and can’t find anywhere else, they’re not entitled to statutory homelessness assistance – although, a limited set of people with NRPF may be assisted by local authorities in order to prevent homelessness.

At this point, it is worth the reminding ourselves of the current plight of people without regularised status who are homeless – many of whom are currently being accommodated in hotels as an emergency pandemic response measure.

They are also ineligible for statutory homelessness assistance, and are prohibited from renting as a result of government’s ‘Right to Rent’ policy which has been found to lead to racial discrimination in the housing market.  This means that they have very few options, if any at all, for further accommodation when the hotel provision ends. The risk of street homelessness for them is very real.

The government must end the NRPF regime

Government may argue that people with leave to remain can apply on an individual basis to have their NRPF condition removed. However, this process is difficult and uncertain, meaning many are still unable to use this route to guarantee access to much-needed public funds.

This is also not a solution for people without regularised status.    

Calls to scrap NRPF have grown since the prime minister’s statement, with migrants’ rights organisations sending a joint letter to Boris Johnson reaffirming their demands for the end of the regime. This follows on from previous joint letters that have been sent to Boris Johnson on this matter.

Ending the NRPF regime is the only way that people who are subjected to harsh NRPF restrictions will be guaranteed access to the social security safety net. This policy intervention is vital to give people subject to NRPF conditions the best chance of covering their rent during the pandemic, limiting the risk of rent arrears, eviction, and homelessness.

It will also help those who are experiencing homelessness now access the statutory homelessness assistance they need, which will give them a better chance of staying safe during the pandemic.

Government must act now and lift NRPF restrictions completely.