Hope into Action: Black Country and Wolverhampton Council have launched a pilot project to get migrants – who have the right to work – off the streets and into employment and accommodation. Matthieu Lambert, the organisation’s Black Country Chief Executive, told us more…

‘Many Eastern Europeans come over to the UK with a legitimate offer of employment or one that they believe to be genuine. Some sectors of our economy are dependent on this type of labour force such as the fruit and vegetable picking industries.

This is often seasonal or temporary work however and when work dries up, as EEA migrants they don’t always have access to public funds and can end up unable to find additional work, losing their accommodation and sleeping rough on our streets.

People with no recourse to benefits have to be working to get into accommodation. But in order to find work they need accommodation and help in securing the right opportunities for training, upskilling and assistance in attending interviews and making applications. This can be a Catch 22 situation.’

To address this problem, in July 2018 Hope into Action Black Country launched a pilot project with Wolverhampton Council, who are paying for the first nine weeks of accommodation for an Eastern European migrant to support them into employment. The funding for this is coming from their homelessness prevention budget (around £1,000).

Meanwhile, Matthieu’s team are providing support with finding and maintaining work (for instance through Empowerment Officers, access to the Wolves@Work programme and partnerships across the city) and sustaining the tenancy.

How does it work in practice?

‘In order for the process to work we have set up some strict access criteria. These require prospective candidates to be able to turn up on time, maintain good interpersonal relationships, manage failure, speak, read and write English to a level B1 or equivalent on CEFR (this is a recognised standard which includes being able to read labels on paint cans and other hazardous materials), produce ID and a NINO, express defined aspirations, access support, take care of their personal hygiene, access healthcare and demonstrate – physically and mentally – that they are fit for work.

What is the reasoning behind the criteria?

‘Before this pilot, as an organisation we had previously taken in migrant workers with no assistance from the council and had assumed all of the risk ourselves. This had seen varying degrees of success. One worker, for instance, found work and started repaying his first month’s rent within 6 weeks of moving in. He has absolutely thrived and is now living independently. For others it has been not so successful, with them being in and out of work for various reasons. It is this learning curve that has enabled us to lay down the strict criteria that we work from.’

What’s the plan for the longer term?

‘With regards to the current pilot project, although it took a while for the resident to secure gainful employment, he is now in stable work and has started repaying his rent arrears. So to all intents and purposes this seems to have been success and we are hoping to build on it in the future. One idea for expansion is to get businesses to fund the cost of getting migrant worker rough sleepers off the streets as part of their corporate social responsibility.’

What have you learnt along the way about the role statutory services can play in supporting homeless migrant workers?

‘One of the assumptions that I had made is that when someone has No Recourse to Public Funds that this means any taxpayer or public money. This is not the case. It means that they do not have automatic access to benefits though in the case of European migrants, that can change once they have built up a sufficient quantity of National Insurance credits to qualify. Consequently, the Local Authority is permitted to use other funds such as their Homelessness Prevention budget to fund schemes of this nature and may find that in doing so they can make substantial savings elsewhere.’

Hope into Action: Black Country was recently awarded first place for Innovation in Housing at the Homeless Link Excellence Awards. Read about them on the Homeless Link blog, or check out the article about the launch of the pilot in a recent edition of the Big Issue.

For more on the role of statutory services in supporting people with NRPF check out the NRPF Network.