A new report released today highlights the damaging impact that the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy has on people trying to access vital support services during the pandemic.

The research on ‘Local authority responses to people with NRPF during the pandemic’, jointly produced by the University of Wolverhampton, ASIRT, Project 17, the Public Interest Law Centre and Migrants’ Rights Network, draws on evidence from the voluntary sector, local authorities and people with direct experience of NRPF, concludes that ‘The most cogent solution to the problems raised in this report is to abolish the NRPF rule and allow people to access mainstream social security based on need, not immigration status.’

The No Recourse to Public Funds policy prevents those with the restriction attached to their immigration status from accessing public funds, such as Universal Credit and statutory homelessness services. NACCOM, alongside many others in the sector, has been calling on the Government to end the NRPF policy, which has put people with insecure immigration status at increased risk of homelessness and destitution during the pandemic by preventing them from accessing the social security safety net at times of need.

The report also highlighted how the implementation of the Government’s ‘Everybody In’ directive failed to ensure support was accessible to those with NRPF:

‘Whilst the MHCLG’s ‘Everybody In’ directive saw many homeless migrants not usually entitled to statutory support accommodated as a result of public health concerns, responsibility for making this provision was put onto local authorities, without any legislation or statutory guidance being introduced that would allow them to execute this responsibility effectively. This represents a failure to address the underlying issue, which is, as many of our participants recognised, that some people are excluded from mainstream support in the first place.’

Key recommendations cited in the report (on pp.71-74) include:

Improved coordination within local authorities and with support organisations – inviting the voluntary sector to meetings, cross referrals, or commissioning immigration advice or translation services.’

Ensuring appropriate subsistence support  – ‘Local authorities must continue to ensure that single homeless people accommodated through the pandemic response are, at the very least, provided with three suitable meals a day and sufficient funds to meet necessary expenses.’

Providing suitable accommodation – Councils must … ensure that single homeless people accommodated through the pandemic response are placed in accommodation that is appropriate to their support needs, and that appropriate care, mental-health and substance-abuse support is provided to those who need it.’

Training for council officers –  In order to understand the NRPF rule, and its implications, and the complex and sometimes contradictory entitlements, council officers across directorates need suitable training that is updated as rules and policies change.’

Clear and publicly available information about how to seek support – ‘Very few local authorities had information on their websites about support for people with NRPF… [this] was a barrier which prevented anyone who was not already accessing support from knowing what help they would be entitled to’.

Clear and consistent referral and assessment procedures – Local authorities gave examples of support thresholds being temporarily lowered, or removed altogether, during the pandemic. However we have also seen numerous examples from voluntary sector organisations and people with NRPF of continued gatekeeping.’

Transparency about data protection and information sharing – Formal ‘firewalls’ may not be possible because local authorities have a legal obligation to check whether people are part of an excluded group under Schedule 3 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, and to inform the Home Office if they are supporting someone in that group. However, local authorities also have to comply with the GDPR, and should be transparent about what information will be shared, with whom, and in what circumstances… Local authorities which have stated their opposition to the ‘hostile environment’ and other anti-migrant policies might consider legal action if they are concerned that their legal obligation to share information with the Home Office may be at odds with their duties to local residents.

Transition beyond pandemic ‘Clear contingency plans are needed at local, regional and national level to ensure that people are not made homeless as the pandemic develops. Local authorities should advocate forcefully, collectively and publicly to central government for an end to NRPF and the provision of ringfenced funding to cover the actual costs of supporting homeless people with NRPF for as long as is necessary to ensure that nobody is forced to return to the streets.’

The full report can be read here.

We’ll be looking at how to integrate some of the learning from this important piece of work into our advocacy work going forward. If you have any specific questions about the report, please contact [email protected].