Three immigration and housing policies that need to end

Three immigration and housing policies that need to end

Today is International Migrants Day.

We recognise that this is a day to celebrate the contribution migrants make to the places they live all over the world, as well as the amazing organisations and people we work alongside who are taking on the ‘hostile environment towards migrants and providing vital support where it’s needed.

But it is also a day to raise awareness of the marginalisation and discrimination many migrants face across the world, and here in the UK. This is particularly true when it comes to housing.

In the UK, migrants face many obstacles in accessing a safe and secure place to call home that they can afford. Unjust and outright discriminatory government policies are chief amongst them.

In this blog, we discuss some key immigration and housing policies that deny access to safe, secure and affordable housing for so many migrants; policies which the government must end.

No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)

One key barrier that many migrants come up against is the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy. Our services, along with specialist organisations like Project 17 (who work to end destitution amongst migrant children), come across many people whose lives are badly impacted by this harmful policy.

NRPF is a condition imposed on most migrants with time-limited leave to remain in the UK (visas that allow you to enter and stay in the UK for a specific time period) and those who do not have a regularised immigration status – this, for instance, includes those with outstanding applications for leave.

Nearly 1.4 million people have NRPF in the UK.

The condition prohibits them from accessing most welfare benefits, including Universal Credit and Discretionary Housing Payments. It also bars them from accessing statutory homelessness assistance and from being allocated social rent housing.

The NRPF condition removes the safety net for these migrants. Many will have nowhere to turn for help if something goes wrong and are forced into destitution. Research shows that the NRPF policy disproportionately affects people of colour, women, and people on low incomes. [1]

The pandemic has brought untold misery for millions and demonstrated the vital importance of this safety net. But it has also shown how this unjust NRPF policy has had a devastating impact on those that need support.

For private renters with leave to remain and the NRPF condition, if they have lost work and income they will not have been able to access the welfare safety net to help them pay their rent. Accruing rent arrears, and as a result, eviction and losing their home is a real risk.

And if they do lose their home, they have very few avenues for securing somewhere else to live. As they are ineligible for statutory homelessness assistance, they will even be ruled out of being allocated basic statutory temporary accommodation.

In theory, families who find themselves in these situations should get support from their local authority under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. But data from Project 17 shows that 6 in 10 families who try to access support are refused – often wrongly. This is unjust.

Even when families are provided with Section 17 accommodation they can be forced into cramped, one-roomed hostels for months, sometimes years on end, with no right to challenge. Children find themselves living in dreadful conditions, where they have no space to thrive and grow, just because of their immigration status.

(No) Right to Rent

Denied access to benefits to help with housing costs and stave off eviction, turned away from statutory homelessness assistance and social housing and failed by the section 17 system, people with NRPF must again try and fend for themselves in an expensive private rented sector.

But for those able to afford a private rented home, yet more barriers await.

Many migrants may face further exclusion from the private rented sector from the government’s Right to Rent policy, a cornerstone of the ‘hostile environment’.

This policy requires landlords to check the immigration status of prospective private renters, turning landlords into de facto border guards. Under this policy landlords must refuse a tenancy to anybody without leave to remain in the UK. If a landlord does rent out a home to someone without a so-called ‘right to rent’ then they can face a fine of up to £3,000 or a criminal conviction.

This policy not only leads to migrants without leave to remain being turned away – it has been shown to lead to discrimination against migrants, and racial discrimination.

A survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of Shelter found that almost half of landlords who make letting decisions said that ‘right to rent’ checks would make them less likely to consider letting to people who didn’t hold a British passport or who ‘appeared to be immigrants’. [2] Mystery shopping research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants also found that Black, Asian and Minority ethnic British people were 14% more likely to receive a negative response from a landlord or no response at all.

For migrants suffering at the hands of this policy, who are prevented from accessing statutory homelessness assistance and who cannot stay with friends or family (a potentially unsafe option during the pandemic), the risk of the streets is very real.

A threat of deportation

A significant proportion of homeless people on our streets are migrants. And now there is one further ‘hostile’ measure awaiting those pushed into rough sleeping. Recent changes to immigration rules mean that people found sleeping rough may have their leave to remain in the UK refused or rescinded. This means people who may well have a strong legal right to be in the country could be refused that right simply because they are on the streets.

It truly is a horrific Catch 22. No access to housing and no safety net, resulting in rough sleeping, which subsequently leads to a denial of the right to be in the country at all. This is no solution to rough sleeping. No one should risk being deported solely because they are on the streets.

We don’t yet know exactly how this new rule will be applied, as the Home Office are yet to publish their guidance, but there will be some very limited exemptions.

But a number of councils, charities and other organisations have already pledged to boycott the policy and a legal challenge has been launched. We also oppose this policy along with any measure which punishes homeless people for their homelessness or pushes them into it.

Fighting for change

Added together, these cruel policies present migrants with a housing system that is almost impossible to navigate. Thankfully, many organisations and people have been helping migrants who are hard hit by these policies and have long been campaigning for their end. They have also been standing in solidarity with migrants who have been inaccurately and unfairly blamed for our housing emergency.

Today, on International Migrants Day, we want to thank some of the amazing organisations we’ve worked with: Project 17, JCWI, NACCOM, the Magpie Project, Praxis, London Black Women’s Project, Hackney Migrant Centre, Migrants Organise, Migrants Resource Centre, Haringey Migrants Centre, Migrant Help UK, Refugee and Migrant Network Sutton, The Refugee Council, Latin American Women’s Association, Boabab Women’s Project, CARRAG, and the organisations that signed the #SocialHousingNotScapegoating statement – along with all those directly supporting migrant individuals and families, and amplifying their voices in the fight against these hostile environment policies.

Please support them and their fantastic work.

And join us in calling on the government to put an end to the unfair immigration and housing policies that continue to deny access to safe, secure housing for so many. We must see an end to the NRPF condition and Right to Rent – and the Home Office must shelve plans for a rough sleepers deportation policy.

[1] Citizens Advice. 2020. Citizens Advice reveals nearly 1.4m have no access to welfare safety net

M. O’neill, U. Erel, E. Kaptani & T. Reynolds. 2019. Borders, risk and belonging: Challenges for arts-based research in understanding the lives of women asylum seekers and migrants ‘at the borders of humanity’

NELMA. 2017 Surviving hostile environments: Migrant families with no recourse to public funds

[2] YouGov survey of 1,071 private landlords letting in UK, online, 18+, June 2015 – July 2015.