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Don't turf destitute homeless onto the streets, councils urged

COUNCILS are being urged to “take a stand” against the government’s no recourse to public funds rule and continue housing destitute migrants in the wake of the pandemic. 

Charities have expressed fears that hundreds of destitute migrants who have been housed in emergency accommodation during the pandemic will soon be turfed back onto the streets. 

In an open letter released today, co-ordinated by Refugee Action, Praxis, JCWI and the Big Issue Foundation, and signed by over 100 homeless charities, lawyers and councillors, the groups call on councils to continue providing them sanctuary. 

At the beginning of the lockdown, housing minister Luke Hall instructed local authorities to house all rough sleepers to aid efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

People with “no recourse to public funds” status, which blocks them from accessing benefits and local housing, were given a concession under the scheme. 

However the government added later that it would not fund accommodation for people with NRPF status, resulting in already cash-strapped councils being forced to foot the bill.

Reports in recent weeks suggest that the scheme, under which 5,400 rough sleepers have been given accommodation, could soon be coming to an end. 

In the letter, the organisations claim this would be “a moral, humanitarian and public health catastrophe, especially given that many shelters will be unable to reopen due to ongoing social distancing requirements.”

Benjamin Morgan of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), one of the letter’s signatories, told the Morning Star that migrants have not been told by councils what will happen. 

However he said that some have been given letters “reminding them they are ‘not eligible’ for statutory support.” 

“This uncertainty around the future is having a significant negative effect on the mental health of some of our clients’,” Mr Morgan explained. 

The groups are also urging councils not to share data with the Home Office and to actively lobby Parliament to scrap the no recourse to public funds rule. 

Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain have an immigration status that allows them to work but prevents them accessing benefits and public housing. 

The rule, which was implemented in 2012 as part of the government’s hostile environment, has come under mounting scrutiny during the pandemic, with charities repeatedly warning that it is forcing migrants into destitution. 

Many have lost their jobs due to the crisis but cannot access benefits to feed their families and provide the basic necessities. 

Haringey Migrant Support Centre, which provides services to migrants in north London, said it is “braced” for even more migrants falling into destitution in the fallout from the pandemic.

However the government has shown little sign that it recognises the devastating impact of the no recourse to public funds rule. 

In the Commons earlier this month Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted that local authorities do provide a safety net and claimed it was “wrong” to suggest otherwise. 

This reluctance has prompted PILC and other groups to urge councils to “take a stand” against the government’s hostile environment policies.  

Mr Morgan continued: “If the government is not willing to protect migrant lives during and after this public health crisis, then local councils must be prepared to take a stand against the ‘hostile environment’ by offering sanctuary. 

“Nobody should be forced to sleep rough for want of the right papers.”

A number of councils have already called on the Home Office to scrap the NPRF rule during the pandemic, including Hackney and Cambridge. 

In a letter to the Home Office earlier this week Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “The ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) policy is plunging families and individuals into an unexpected financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with no safety net to prevent these families becoming destitute other than the support provided by councils like Hackney.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), the body representing councils, also called on the Home Office to scrap the rule for the duration of the pandemic. 

LGA spokesman David Renard said councils are in need of guidance and support as they plan the next steps on how to support people out of emergency accommodation.

“A temporary removal of the NRPF condition would reduce public health risks and pressures on homelessness services by enabling vulnerable people to access welfare benefits,” he said. 

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