Social Justice

Government faces court action over rule punishing migrants in lockdown

The Unity Project said applying for benefits under the no recourse to public funds rule can double the Home Office fees migrants have to pay

An empty wallet. the no recourse to public funds policy is driving struggling migrants into poverty

Image: Pixabay

Activists are crowdfunding to take the Government to court for allegedly “deliberately penalising migrant families” during the pandemic.

The Unity Project, in London, will bring a judicial review against the Home Office over a condition of the no recourse to public funds policy which they say is pushing struggling migrant families deeper into poverty.

It doubles the costly fees migrants must pay and length of time they must wait before being recognised as UK citizens – in exchange for receiving benefits.

“The government is yet again hurting migrants for simply asking to be treated fairly and humanely,” Unity Project community organiser Mary Senjobi told The Big Issue.

“Penalising us, by doubling our Home Office fees, and doubling how long we have to wait before we can be accepted as citizens of the country we call home. It is incomprehensible that they are doing this in the middle of a national crisis – telling us that the goal of citizenship is an ever-changing and debilitating game, which we have little hope of winning.”

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.  

The no recourse to public funds (NRPF) rule stops non-EEA nationals who have been in the UK for fewer than five years from accessing the welfare safety net including local housing allowance and income support.

People subject to NRPF can submit a change of circumstances application showing they are at risk of destitution. If successful, the Home Office lifts the policy so they can access welfare support.

But in doing so, those on the five-year route to settlement – which usually applies to those on spousal visas – must consent to being moved onto the ten-year route in exchange for the NRPF condition being lifted.

This doubles the Home Office fees they must pay and means waiting an extra five years before becoming a UK citizen.

Leave to remain applications must be made every 30 months. An additional five years on the process means another two applications which cost at least £2,593 each.

The number of applications about a change of circumstances increased drastically during the first Covid-19 lockdown. 

In the second quarter of 2019, 914 were submitted. This compares to 5,665 submitted in the second quarter of 2020, Home Office data showed.

This policy punishes parents for needing financial support during an unprecedented national crisis

The Unity Project helped mother of two Rachel who struggled for childcare during lockdown and was forced to stop working. This pushed her into rent arrears and her family was threatened with eviction.

She submitted a change of conditions application to remove the no recourse to public funds policy in her case. The Home Office granted this, but it meant switching her from the five-year settlement route to the ten-year route. This has made Rachel’s future “in the country she and her British-born children call home” less secure, the Project said.

“This policy punishes parents for needing financial support during an unprecedented national crisis, by doubling their Home Office fees,” project coordinator Caz Hattam said.

“These are the families who were already hardest hit by the pandemic. Almost none of the parents we work with can benefit from coronavirus support schemes, let alone other state support, and NRPF disproportionately affects people who are black, or from a minority ethnic background

“Since lockdown, the number of people applying for access to welfare support has increased six-fold. Families that were previously getting by can no longer keep themselves afloat. We and others have repeatedly called on the government – both before and during the pandemic – to end this cruel policy. They haven’t listened, which is why we are bringing this legal challenge.”

The charity has raised nearly £12,500 in just two days. In May last year it supported a High Court challenge brought against the Home Office over NRPF. The policy was ruled unlawful, and Government guidance was changed to allow people to apply for public funds before they fall into poverty, rather than waiting until they are already experiencing it.

The Government said it had introduced a series of support measures during the pandemic which benefited migrants. This included the job retention scheme, self-employment income support scheme, rent and mortgage holidays. 

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Almost no recorded cases of disability benefit fraud despite DWP crackdown: 'PIP fraud is a non-issue'
dwp pip/ disabled person
Disability benefits

Almost no recorded cases of disability benefit fraud despite DWP crackdown: 'PIP fraud is a non-issue'

Deaf man awarded £50,000 after 'oppressive' and 'discriminatory' treatment by DWP
dwp jobcentre
Department for Work and Pensions

Deaf man awarded £50,000 after 'oppressive' and 'discriminatory' treatment by DWP

The UK used to be the most LGBTQ-friendly place in Europe. Now, it's not even close
LGBTQ+ rights

The UK used to be the most LGBTQ-friendly place in Europe. Now, it's not even close

'We're at breaking point': Food banks see record number of first-time users as demand soars
food bank
Food banks

'We're at breaking point': Food banks see record number of first-time users as demand soars

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know