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Housing

Home Office rough sleeping scheme ‘put people in danger of detention and deportation’

Personal details were shared with the Home Office 85 times, leaving people at risk of deportation, an human rights organisation Liberty Investigates found. Charity Single Homeless Project details why it pulled out of the scheme.

A homelessness charity has said it pulled out of a Home Office scheme that is intended to support people from outside the UK who are rough sleeping over the risk of deportation and detention.

London-based Single Homeless Project is one of three charities that was revealed to have shared personal data of non-UK rough sleepers with the Home Office through the Rough Sleeper Support Scheme (RSSS), following an investigation by human rights organisation Liberty Investigates.

But the charity told The Big Issue it opted to pull out of the controversial scheme after discovering that the “risk far outweighs the benefits” to SHP clients.

The details of homeless people were shared with the RSSS 85 times between October 14 2020 and December 23 2021. The scheme had previously been paused in 2018 over controversy surrounding the use of non-UK rough sleepers’ personal data without consent but returned in 2020.

Liz Rutherfoord, chief executive, Single Homeless Project told The Big Issue: “Single Homeless Project is solely focused on working to prevent homelessness and supporting those who are homeless to rebuild their lives, no matter what their background.

“We take our responsibility to safeguard our clients and their welfare very seriously and will not support any scheme that puts their futures at risk. The way the RSSS currently operates could mean that in working with them, we could put our clients in danger of detention and deportation. This risk far outweighs the possible benefits that the service may bring to them.”

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A Home Office response to a Freedom of Information request shows the referrals were made by 11 councils including Gloucester City and Leeds City; housing provider Keystage Housing; and three charities.

The scheme has proven controversial in the past and was halted in 2018 after it was revealed undocumented people identified by the scheme would be quietly deported either voluntarily or forcibly after their data was obtained without consent. 

But the scheme returned two years later with a new requirement to obtain rough sleepers’ “fully informed consent” – following a legal challenge from the Public Interest Law Centre.

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The Home Office could not confirm how many rough sleepers have been deported since October 2020.

But Paul Kershaw, the chair of Unite’s housing worker’s branch, told The Big Issue that the trade union’s members would be urged not to co-operate with the scheme.

“Our members in some NGOs and those organisations are absolutely determined not to let them repeat that error,” said Kershaw.

“So I think that’s why rough sleepers can have a degree of confidence in the current arrangements. 

“We have called on local authorities and, we would repeat it, not to participate in this Home Office scheme.”

The scheme promises to identify within 24 hours whether an undocumented rough sleeper has an immigration status that allows them to access public funds. 

The RSSS’s lack of independence, and the Home Office’s failure to remove the risk of deportation to those using the service, has made it untrustworthy and a “waste of taxpayers’ money,” said James Tullett, chief executive of charity Ramfel, which supports destitute migrants and also does not use the RSSS.

The Home Office has begun a review into the scheme and a letter dated November 19 2021 saw a concession that  “participation in the [service] has been low”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to the RSSS to help get people off the streets, which has been an open and transparent service throughout.

“The public expects those with no right to be here and who make no effort to legalise their status to be removed – either voluntarily or enforced.”

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