“I am unable to continue living like this, there’s no end in sight” – Government must urgently scrap No Recourse to Public Funds

When a policy has as severe an impact as No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) does, there is an expectation that the Prime Minister will at least themselves be aware of its serious implications and attempt to defend its existence. It was particularly concerning, therefore, that when questioned by the Liaison Committee on the 27th of May; Boris Johnson confessed that he was not aware of what NRPF even was.

Becca Stacey, Policy and Campaigns Officer

16 June 2020

NRPF is when people in the UK with temporary immigration status do not have access to public funds. Public funds include most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance that are paid by the state. Many people with NRPF study or work, so with Covid-19 causing high levels of unemployment, many people with NRPF have been pushed into destitution as a result of not being able to access welfare support.

When asked by Stephen Timms MP how it was right that a couple in his constituency were being forced into destitution because of having NRPF, the Prime Minister first asked why they can’t claim Universal Credit? It’s a good question – it is only right that they should be able to. Boris Johnson said he would get back to the Liaison Committee on that “because clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here should have support of one kind or another.” He also said he would find out how many people there are with NRPF, and look at what he could do to help them.

For our client Richard, Covid-19 has intensified how tenuous his position is as a result of having NRPF. He has chronic health conditions that mean he is unable to work. He was receiving income-replacement benefits until 2016, when the Home Office notified the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that Richard has no status in the UK. Richard’s exclusion from access to public funds has left him close to destitution. The DWP is seeking to recover benefit overpayments made to Richard while he had NRPF – a sum of nearly £65,000 – and one of the conditions of his Home Office bail is that he has to remain living at the same address, trapped paying rent and council tax which he can’t afford. This means that he has accumulated rent arrears of around £2,000, and council tax arrears of around £7,000. Richard is required to shield during the coronavirus pandemic, and while he receives some support in the form of food parcels and prescriptions, his situation is increasingly desperate. EDF have given him £100 credit for his electricity meter, and Z2K have managed to obtain a small grant for a cooker, so that he can prepare hot meals. But as he says, “I am unable to continue living like this, there’s no end in sight.” Richard is in touch with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to explore what legal avenues are available to him regarding his immigration status, and we will be contacting his local MP for assistance in reducing his council tax bill to nil.

It is right that the Prime Minister’s initial reaction when questioned by the Liaison Committee was that NRPF sounded unfair, it is. However, Priti Patel has since said that the Government does not know how many people have NRPF in the UK,[1] and in his follow up letter to the Committee Boris Johnson ruled out scrapping NRPF,[2] saying that anyone with NRPF needing support during this Covid-19 pandemic can access this through: the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, statutory sick pay, contributory ESA, and local authority Covid-19 assistance and basic safety net support.[3]

However, recent research shows that many people with NRPF have struggled to access food, shelter and subsistence support during the pandemic.[4] As the Local Government Association (LGA) explained when they recently called for a temporary suspension of NRPF, “councils do not receive any specific funding from central government to support people with NRPF…and greater clarity is needed from government on what additional practical support will be available to councils to help them move rough sleepers out of hotels and temporary accommodation and into housing, when the current ‘everyone in’ policy, where all people sleeping rough are placed in emergency accommodation, comes to an end.” LGA says suspending NRPF would allow councils to support this group of people directly into accommodation using the rough sleeping funding recently allocated by government, which cannot be used to support people with NRPF. [5]

While a recent successful legal challenge has led to the Home Office changing its guidance to say that caseworkers are under a duty either not to impose or to lift an NRPF condition if they consider that someone is destitute or is at imminent risk of destitution without recourse to public funds,[6] in practice it is very difficult to get NRPF removed.[7]

Going forwards, we are going to be challenging the Government on the inadequacy of the Covid-19 support it claims to provide for people with NRPF. It is not right that councils and charities should have to pick up the pieces of the Government’s hostile environment – the NRPF policy needs to urgently be scrapped, so that everyone can access vital welfare support.

[1]https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/home-office-does-not-know-how-many-people-facing-migrant-welfare-ban-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-minister-confirm

[2]https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/1410/documents/12903/default/

[3]https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/05/05/no-recourse-to-public-funds-nrpf/

[4]https://www.pilc.org.uk/news/story/interim-findings-from-nrpf-research/

[5]https://www.local.gov.uk/councils-call-suspension-no-recourse-public-funds-during-covid-19-crisis

[6]https://www.freemovement.org.uk/part-of-no-recourse-to-public-funds-policy-declared-unlawful-full-judgment-out/

[7]https://www.jcwi.org.uk/our-joint-letter-to-the-prime-minister-its-time-to-scrap-nrpf