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Background


No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a visa condition which prevents migrants from accessing the majority of state-funded benefits. The term ‘public funds’ covers most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance that are paid by the state. It does not include benefits that are based on National Insurance contributions, such as contribution-based jobseekers’ allowance, statutory sick pay, or statutory maternity pay.


The condition applies to all those on a visa who have not been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain – this includes people who intend to stay in the UK permanently or have been in the UK for many years but are on restrictive and long routes to settlement, which are set by the Home Office.


As a result, a diverse group of people are affected by NRPF conditions, including migrant workers (employed and self-employed), asylum seekers, victims of trafficking and torture, those who have exhausted appeal rights, international students, and undocumented migrants. British family members of migrants are often impacted by restrictions too.


Whilst migrants with NRPF conditions are currently entitled to access the COVID Job Retention Scheme for furloughed workers and the equivalent for self-employed workers, all migrants with NRPF continue to be barred from accessing most forms of state support, including Universal Credit, Income-based Job Seekers Allowance, Income-based Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Free School Meals, Disability Living Allowance, PIP, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Local Authority Homelessness Assistance and many others.


COVID-19 and NRPF


Long before the pandemic, NRPF restrictions have been pushing working families into abject poverty, forcing them into unsustainable debt and into homelessness or unsafe, overcrowded, insecure housing. Even women fleeing abusive partners are not entitled to access mainstream refuges and children who are subject to NRPF conditions are not entitled to free school meals and go hungry. A recent report from the Children’s Society found that almost half of children with foreign-born parents live in poverty. This means over 100,000 children living in poverty, with parents reporting that they are unable to meet even their children's most basic needs.


Since the Covid-19 outbreak, this situation has considerably worsened, particularly for those in insecure employment or on zero hours contracts. Many people, including migrants, have had their hours cut or have lost their jobs completely, putting them in difficult financial circumstances.


Recent research from IPPR has highlighted how migrants are at particular risk from the economic fallout of COVID-19. Some 17 per cent of migrant workers across the UK are self-employed, compared to 14 per cent of UK-born workers, 54 per cent of migrants rent their property, compared to just 29 per cent of the UK-born population, and migrant workers are more likely to work in accommodation and food services.

The unemployment rate in the UK grew to 4.1% in the three months to July, compared with 3.9% previously. Migrants with NRPF conditions attached to their visas are at high risk of being pushed into destitution should they lose their jobs and have no access to the support network provided by public funds. Without access to the public safety net migrants will be forced to work in unsafe conditions, cannot remove themselves from unsafe housing, and are unable to both effectively self-isolate and feed their families, as well as being at high risk of destitution and homelessness.

With an increased risk of destitution also comes increased risk of pressure on local authorities who will need to respond to increasing request for support, particularly through housing routes as homelessness risk increases. The Local Government Association has noted that high numbers of people with NRPF have been approaching councils for support and have also warned that some councils will need extra Government help (and funding) to support all rough sleepers and vulnerable homeless people. Councils do not receive any specific funding from central government to support people with NRPF. The latest data for 2018/19 showed that 59 councils were spending £47.5 million a year on NRPF service provision, prior to the coronavirus crisis. The main justification for NRPF conditions has been to save public funds. However, as support from a local authority social services department does not constitute a public fund, NRPF conditions represents nothing more than a cost shunt from central to local taxpayers and placed extra stress on local authorities at a time of crisis.


It is apparent that the removal of NRPF is vital to both efforts to contain COVID-19, to prevent hardship amongst migrant communities and to prevent Local Authorities from becoming overwhelmed by requests for support.


NRPF and the Hostile Environment


While NRPF was first introduced for migrants with leave to remain in section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Immigration Act 2016 further extended these provisions to include broader categories of migrants as part of the Hostile Environment.


As has been widely recognised, the Windrush Scandal was primarily caused by the Hostile Environment and internal Home Office failures. Following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, the Home Office has committed to reviewing the Hostile Environment. At a minimum, it is vital that all elements of the Hostile Environment should be suspended until this review has been completed by the Home Office. However, there is significant evidence that the Hostile Environment does not only fail to achieve its stated aims but that it directly causes racial discrimination. The Home Office does not collect data on the impacts of the policies which fall under this category. As a result, it is vital that the Hostile Environment is repealed in all its forms.


The Home Office has also committed to reducing the complexity of immigration and nationality law as a result of the Windrush Scandal. Whilst, in theory, the current policy on NRPF allows for a limited number of people to apply, on an individual basis, to have their NRPF condition removed, a recent court case highlighted that this is incredibly difficult in practice and does not prevent abject poverty. It is very difficult for families to make the application, and if they are successful in doing so, they are punished by having an extra ten years added onto their route to settlement the way. This means a much longer wait till permanent status and citizenship, thousands of pounds more in visa fees, and many more opportunities to fall out of status altogether if they cannot pay the extra fees. Meaning that the system charges you more if you can’t afford to survive.


NRPF is only lifted in exceptional circumstances, leaving most people with no such option. Hundreds of families without income are unable to make the application or have been waiting weeks or months for a decision.


The High Court found that the system is currently so difficult to escape that it constitutes a breach of Article 3 - the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court found that at present a migrant must prove that they are actually destitute before NRPF conditions may be lifted. It ordered that showing that they were about to become destitute ought to be enough to have NRPF conditions lifted. This is still far too high of a barrier, with individuals forced into abject poverty before they can even apply to receive mainstream support that is clearly so desperately needed. In addition, the removal of NPRF would speed up the process of simplification of the immigration rules, particularly as the policy is notorious in its complexity for Local Authorities, people affected and for those providing legal advice and support services.


Case Study


Peter * is an overground worker over the age of 65 who has lived in the UK for the past 16 years and has been working throughout the pandemic despite medical advice to shield. He has No Recourse to Public Funds. He lives in a 2-bed flat in London and spends £1200 a month on accommodation. His wife works for the NHS. Their income combined is only £2200 a month, which does not leave him and his family much to get by on. He is also facing massive visa fee debt, which adds another strain on his finances. He has spent almost his whole time in UK as a key worker but has also been undocumented for the majority of his time here. Peter is officially retired but he only gets £20 a week from state pension as he did not work long enough in regular jobs to get more than this. As a result, Peter has been forced to continue working in high risk conditions, or face destitution as a result of the NRPF conditions.

*names and details have been changed to protect identity.

Recommendations


Scrapping NRPF conditions is the only way to ensure that people do not have to choose between their own and the public health and being able to feed and house their families. Everyone living in the UK, whatever their immigration or employment status must have access to public funds, and to any new funds that are made available to ensure that people can weather this crisis.

  • Apply all new measures designed to support UK workers equally to EU and non-EU migrant workers.
  • Remove ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ visa conditions so that all migrants living in the UK can access benefits and public services.
  • Repeal the Hostile Environment as a policy that directly causes racial discrimination and hardship for migrants of all kinds.

For more information please contact:

Minnie Rahman

Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, JCWI
[email protected] - 0207 553 7463

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