Home Office plans to deport rough sleepers have been branded “inhumane” by more than 60 homelessness and human rights groups who have stepped up their campaign to force ministers to scrap the proposals.
Homelessness charities called on local authorities to avoid enforcing the amended immigration rules which meant non-UK rough sleepers could see their right to remain in the country refused or cancelled for sleeping on the streets in recent weeks.
But more than 60 groups, including Shelter, Crisis and Anti-Slavery International have released a joint-statement calling for the rules to be scrapped entirely, warning they risk driving rough sleepers away from essential support and into modern slavery and exploitation.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “We are deeply concerned that these new rules will push people away from seeking support, and into the hands of criminals seeking to exploit them. The guidance released by the Home Office over how they will be used does nothing to allay our fears.
“There have been huge strides made in tackling rough sleeping over the past year, with thousands of people moved from the streets and into safe, self-contained accommodation. These changes threaten to undermine that progress.”
The Home Office announced the new rules last October but introduced new guidance in April that stated they were only to be used as a last resort when rough sleepers have refused or disengaged with support and are engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour or other criminal activity.
A Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Simply sleeping rough is not grounds for removal. The immigration rule, which is discretionary and is only to be used as a last resort, allows for permission to stay to be refused or cancelled when a person repeatedly refuses offers of suitable support and is engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour.”
The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) has launched a legal challenge against the plans, having previously taken action against the UK Government for targeting non-UK nationals for removal by immigration enforcement. PILC’s action in 2017 led to the High Court ruling Home Office guidance was illegal.
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The full joint-statement reads:
Changes to the Immigration Rules, published on 22 October 2020, made rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling a person’s permission to remain in the UK. Last week, the UK Government published guidance confirming how these rules will now be applied.
The guidance does nothing to put our fears to rest.
We are gravely concerned about the impact of these changes. Everyone in our society should have a safe place to live and no one should be punished for experiencing homelessness.
This policy undermines this principle. It is inhumane and will make non-UK nationals in vulnerable circumstances fearful of asking for the support they need to get off the streets. It puts people at risk of exploitative work, accommodation, and potentially modern slavery, to avoid sleeping rough and putting themselves at threat of removal from the country.
We fear that victims of modern slavery in particular, (many of whom are recruited from, or end up on the streets), will fear that they will not be viewed as victims of crime, but instead as criminals. This will be used to deter anyone seeking help to break free of this crime.
We urge the UK Government to scrap these damaging new rules immediately to ensure everyone can access homelessness support without fear. We urge authorities to retain their focus on supporting people out of homelessness.
Governments across England, Scotland and Wales have shown they can take bold action to tackle homelessness. Building on this progress, we urgently need to see a clear, national strategy from the UK Government to end rough sleeping and homelessness for all.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive, Crisis
Polly Neate CBE, Chief Executive, Shelter
Steve Douglas CBE, Chief Executive, St. Mungo’s
Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link
Mick Clarke, CEO, The Passage
Sally Daghlian, CEO, Praxis
Lucy Abraham, CEO, Glass Door Homeless Charity
Barbara Drozdowicz, CEO, East European Resource Centre
Mike Thiedke, CEO, Depaul UK
Sylvia Ingmire, CEO, Roma Support Group
David Ford, Founder and Chief Executive, Expert Link
Tim Sigsworth, Chief Executive, Albert Kennedy Trust
James Tullett, Chief Executive, Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London
Andrea Cleaver, Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council
Ewan Aitkens, CEO, Cyrenians
Charles Maasz, CEO, Glasgow City Mission
Annika Joy, Chief Executive, Destitute Asylum Seekers
Maggie Brunjes, CEO, Homeless Network Scotland
Lorraine McGrath, CEO, Simon Community Scotland
Alison Reid, CEO, Clan Childlaw
Duncan Cuthill, CEO, Edinburgh City Mission
Aaliyah Seyal, CEO, Legal Services Agency
Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome
Julian Prior, Chief Executive, Action Foundation
Jessica Hodge, CEO, Emmaus Bristol
Amanda Dubarry, Chief Executive, Caritas Anchor House
Amanda Croome, CEO, Booth Centre