Councils plead with ministers to lift no recourse to public funds policy

The Local Government Association said suspension of the restrictions stopping some migrants from accessing benefits could mean the difference between having a home and sleeping rough for thousands

The Local Government Association (LGA) is asking the UK Government to suspend the no recourse to public funds policy so they can help vulnerable people through the Covid-19 crisis.

High numbers of people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are turning to local authorities for support as a result of pandemic job losses, the body said, and it’s driving concern that thousands could be made homeless in the months to come – because councils can’t legally house them using the emergency rough sleeping funding distributed from central government.

The NRPF condition means some migrants are denied access to the social security safety net, with no entitlement to welfare and benefits like child tax credits and housing benefits, because they have limited leave to remain in the UK. This also means fewer of them are swept up in the widescale ‘Everyone In’ efforts by councils to get rough sleepers off the streets which have so far housed nearly 15,000 people in emergency accommodation, the LGA said.

Local authorities have been supporting people with NRPF through the crisis but say there isn’t enough cash to stop those who were sleeping rough from returning to the streets.

Local outbreaks may mean there still may be a need to be able to access safe and suitable accommodation

The LGA wants to work with Dame Louise Casey, who was appointed head of the UK Government’s Rough Sleeping Taskforce, to secure more funding for councils to make it possible for them to cut the risk of destitution for many.

London boroughs previously expressed similar concerns, calling for a 12-month suspension of the NRPF restrictions in the fight to avoid an impending homelessness disaster. Councils in the English capital are currently housing at least 900 people who are subject to the restrictions.

And in an attempt to plug the gap left by central government policy, Hackney Council announced a £100,000 fund to support locals hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis but left without access to the welfare system.

Two grants of £30,000 will go to charities Family Action and East End Citizens Advice respectively, while the rest of the money will give a boost to existing subsistence funds for families with children to help them access food, cover utility costs and cut rent arrears.

Local authorities do not receive any funding to support people with NRPF, despite 2018-19 data which showed 59 councils were spending £47.5 million a year on provisions for people who come under that category.

Councillors are keen to put plans in place which will support people to move on from emergency accommodation when the ‘Everybone In’ scheme ends, but the LGA said greater clarity will be needed on what extra support local authorities can expect from central government to make that possible.

Cllr David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “Councils have been doing everything they can to support all groups facing homelessness and help protect them from coronavirus. Councils are now planning their next steps in supporting people to move on from emergency accommodation. This needs to include clarity and funding for those who are destitute and homeless because of their migration status.

“As the economy recovers, local outbreaks may mean there still may be a need to be able to access safe and suitable accommodation and financial support to allow for self-isolation, particularly for single adults without care needs who are not usually eligible for social services’ support.

“This could be enabled by a temporary removal of the NRPF condition which would reduce public health risks and pressures on homelessness services by enabling vulnerable people to access welfare benefits.”

Last month more than 60 frontline groups and homelessness charities across England called on ministers to act urgently and protect those with NRPF before thousands are forced back onto the streets.

In a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, signatories including The Big Issue Foundation, our charitable arm, plus co-writers Haringey Migrant Support Centre and Big Issue Changemakers the Museum of Homelessness outlined their concerns with the government’s coronavirus-driven Everyone In policy – demanding policy change to ensure the efforts to end rough sleeping really do include everyone.

A Haringey Migrant Support Centre spokesperson said: “We face a unique opportunity to end homelessness once and for all. To do so requires us to examine and resolve the long-term issues underlying the homelessness crisis of Britain: poverty, precarity, uncontrolled high rents and an immigration regime that has, in effect, accepted destitution as a direct consequence of racist immigration laws.”

A Government spokesperson said the new rough sleeping taskforce spearheaded by Dame Casey “has one overriding objective: to ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return and will continue to work closely with councils and charities to provide the long term support needed”.