Homelessness groups based in Manchester have joined more than 100 others across the country in urging councils to “take a stand” against the government’s No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule which prohibits many migrants from accessing welfare.
In a letter co-ordinated by Refugee Action, Praxis, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Big Issue Foundation, and signed by three homeless groups in Manchester, the charities express grave concern at the prospect of homeless migrants being kicked out of emergency accommodation as the government relaxes the lockdown.
The letter, whose signatories from Manchester include Greater Manchester Housing Action, Greater Manchester Law Centre and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, states:
“As lockdown measures are eased, we are extremely concerned that some homeless people, particularly those with NRPF, may be evicted from council-provided accommodation and be forced to return to destitution.
“This would be a moral, humanitarian and public health catastrophe, especially given that many shelters will be unable to reopen due to ongoing social distancing requirements”.
The signatories also call on local authorities to lobby the government publicly for an end to the NRPF condition, so that already overstretched local authorities do not have the burden of supporting such people and destitute migrants have access to housing and welfare. NRPF applies to those in the UK without immigration permission which means that although they can work and pay taxes, they cannot access most benefits or state support.
At the beginning of lockdown, the government released £3.2bn to councils to fund the provision of emergency accommodation to those who had nowhere to self-isolate as part of its ‘Everyone In’ policy. So far Greater Manchester authorities have provided 1,600 homeless people with accommodation under the scheme.
The government gave councils a special dispensation to provide emergency accommodation to those with NRPF immigration status for the duration of the pandemic as part of its Everyone In policy. However, charities say there is no longer term provision to fund council measures to stop rough sleepers living with NRPF from returning to the streets once lockdown ends, nor is there any guidance from the government on what legal powers councils should use to support those who would not normally be eligible for assistance going forward.
There are hundreds of people in Greater Manchester living with NRPF conditions on their immigration status. For this reason, the charities are calling on councils to publicly lobby for the end of NRPF restrictions to prevent homeless migrants living with these restrictions slipping through the safety net.
A spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, one of the letter’s signatories from Manchester, told The Meteor:
“As an organisation we know the difficulties faced by those with NRPF even under normal circumstances. They are denied access to the safety-net available to most people, something our PM seemed blissfully unaware of.
“Coronavirus has hit those with NRPF hard, with no way to escape their situation. Applying to remove the NRPF restriction is a bureaucratic, slow process, with an unrealistic requirement to provide masses of evidence to prove the restriction should be removed.
“The only human solution to this is for the government to remove the NRPF restriction from everyone affected now. Local authorities need to join us in raising this demand with central government and continue to support those with NRPF at risk of sleeping rough.”
The letter comes amid fears that many migrants living with NRPF conditions on their immigration status will be evicted from emergency accommodation in the coming months and forced to return to the streets as lockdown measures are lifted.
Last week local authorities across the country as well as the Local Government Association, the umbrella group for councils in England and Wales, joined calls for the government to suspend the controversial “no recourse to public funds” immigration status for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
On 14 May, the Manchester Evening News reported that civil servants had told Greater Manchester officials that central government would scrap funding for its Everyone In policy.
In response, more than 60 frontline groups and homelessness charities across England, including five from Manchester, signed a letter outlining their concerns with the government’s coronavirus-driven Everyone In policy and calling for additional funds for local authorities to prevent what they called a “humanitarian disaster” in the winter.
Manchester city council supported the claims made in the letter, urging the government to provide greater financial support if it was “serious about ending homelessness”.
The government responded to the backlash by setting up a homelessness task force led by Dame Louise Casey, the prime minister’s advisor for rough sleeping, as part of “the next phase” of its support for rough sleepers during the pandemic.
However, housing activists say that there has been a lack of future planning around the extension of the Everyone In policy since then. “It is clear that central government has not provided sufficient funding to local authorities to support homeless people during this crisis,” states the letter produced this week.
“This has been compounded by the failure of MHCLG [the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government] to provide guidance on what legal powers councils should use to support those who would not normally be eligible for assistance. The NRPF condition, which restricts some migrants’ access to welfare benefits, has placed the burden of supporting such people on overstretched local authorities.
“We are asking your local authority [Manchester city council] to… [urgently] and publicly advocate to central government for the removal of all NRPF restrictions, including those that apply to undocumented migrants and EEA citizens without a qualifying right to reside, to ensure that everyone can access shelter and meet their basic needs during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Feature image: Local Government Association
You can read the open letter in full here