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Plans to deport rough sleepers could ‘put lives at risk’

Homelessness charities have warned Home Office rules that threaten to deport rough sleepers could pushed them away from support
Can rough sleeping be ended while the UK pursues its hostile environment strategy? Image credit: Piqsels

Home Office rules that could let the UK Government deport migrants for sleeping rough will “put lives at risk”, say homelessness charities calling on authorities not to enforce them. 

Under amended immigration rules, non-UK rough sleepers may have their permission to remain in the country refused or cancelled on the grounds that they are sleeping rough on the streets.

The Home Office has said rough sleepers will only face deportation if they have refused or disengaged with support and are engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour or other criminal activity. But charities have warned the threat of deportation could keep people away from essential support as the UK Government aims to end rough sleeping by 2024.

This could put lives at risk, and leave people open to exploitation and modern slaveryPolly Neate, Shelter chief executive

“Street homelessness should never be a reason to force anyone out of the country. It would be deeply worrying if the government met its target to end rough sleeping by deporting destitute migrants with nowhere else to go,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter.

“The new Home Office guidance on the removal of rough sleepers leaves a lot to interpretation, meaning fewer vulnerable people will come forward for help. This could put lives at risk, and leave people open to exploitation and modern slavery.” 

The Home Office announced the change to immigration rules in October last year before they came into force in December but guidance published on Tuesday gave the green light for the policy to be put into practice. 

In the guidance, the Home Office stressed that “the general expectation is that migrants coming to the UK should be able to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds”.

The department explained that the immigration rules “reflect the need to maintain the confidence of the general public that immigration brings benefits to our country, rather than costs to the public purse”.

But Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes warned vital support for migrants sleeping rough was already in short supply and could leave people “trapped in rough sleeping with no way out”.

The homelessness charity boss insisted people needed a safe place to stay, immigration advice and employment support to be lifted out of homelessness.

“Everyone in our society should have a safe place to live and shouldn’t face punishment for experiencing homelessness,” said Sparkes.

“This policy completely goes against this – it is inhumane and its mere existence will make non-UK nationals in vulnerable circumstances fearful of asking for the support they need to help them off the streets. To be clear, we do not accept this policy and urge authorities not to use these powers in any circumstances.”

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The immigration plans have faced opposition since they were first announced last year.

Labour Homelessness Campaign’s petition calling for the rules to be scrapped has topped 40,000 signatures while the Public Interest Law Centre launched a legal challenge.

The UK Government has faced calls to set out a plan to end rough sleeping by 2024. The Public Accounts Committee said the lack of a plan ”is a failure for which the department cannot blame the pandemic” in March.

Ministers have, however, pledged to scrap the Vagrancy Act – an almost 200-year-old law that criminalises sleeping rough and begging. The minister for rough sleeping Eddie Hughes vowed to “take this work forward at pace” to axe the act at a parliamentary debate last week.