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Legal challenge launched to stop ‘cruel’ deportation of rough sleepers

The Public Interest Law Centre’s crowdfunding campaign passed its £5,000 target to take action against Home Office immigration plans

Home Office plans to deport migrants who are forced to sleep rough are set to face a legal challenge after lawyers launched a crowdfunding campaign.

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) met its original £5,000 goal within 24 hours of unveiling plans to take the Home Office to court over their new immigration rules.

Non-UK nationals could face deportation from December 1, with rough sleeping considered a basis for refusal or cancellation of permission to stay in the UK.

The PILC successfully challenged the policy to deport rough sleepers in the high court in 2017, when it was ruled unlawful, but the Home Office announced plans to reintroduce the law in October.

Aside from being cruel and, in our view, unlawful, these changes to the immigration rules will be counterproductive in terms of efforts to reduce rough sleeping

Benjamin Morgan, who runs the homeless rights project for European citizens at PILC, said “migrant destitution is in large part the result of deliberate government policy”. 

“The Home Office could, if it chose, take significant steps towards ending non UK-national homelessness by scrapping the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) regime,” he said. “Instead the government has effectively criminalised rough sleeping for some categories of migrant in the UK.

“Aside from being cruel and, in our view, unlawful, these changes to the immigration rules will be counterproductive in terms of efforts to reduce rough sleeping. They are likely to deter homeless non-UK nationals from seeking the support and advice many urgently need in order to resolve their destitution.”

The new immigration rules are set to hit victims of trafficking and modern slavery as well as EU citizens who do not apply to the EU Settlement Scheme in time for next year’s June 30 deadline.

Many rough sleeping migrants have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) or state support — a “hostile environment” policy — meaning already vulnerable groups like asylum seekers are not entitled to benefits and struggle to get help finding housing from local authorities.

PILC lawyers argue that ending the no recourse to public funds condition will prevent the poverty, exploitation and abuse that forces people into rough sleeping. 

They will write to the Home Office on December 1 asking the department to reconsider the policy and follow that up with legal action if there is no u-turn.

PILC are acting on behalf of the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) and have set up the crowdfunding campaign to cover legal costs faced by RAMFEL if the challenge is unsuccessful.

Although they have met the £5,000 that they initially targeted, PILC is still urgently seeking support to ensure they have enough funds to meet any legal costs.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Big Issue: “For the small minority of EEA migrant rough sleepers who continue to refuse government and local authority support and repeatedly engage in persistent anti-social behaviour, the new immigration reforms mean they could lose their right to be in the UK.

“This would be a last resort measure and initially individuals would be asked to leave voluntarily with government support. In the event that they refuse, we may take the step to remove them.

“These reforms will not apply to EEA nationals who are within scope of the EU Settlement Scheme or who are otherwise covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Homelessness charity Crisis is one of the organisations that has spoken out against the new rules and they have given the PILC campaign their backing.

Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive, insisted that the policy threatens to undermine the government’s work to protect rough sleepers during the pandemic.

He said: “While the UK government says the new rules will only be used sparingly, when people have refused support, we know through our work that many are forced into rough sleeping because they cannot access mainstream support with housing and benefits.

“We ​support action to challenge these dangerous rules and are urging the UK Government to reconsider these new rules and ensure that Everyone In truly means everyone.”

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