On March 20th PILC, along with Migrants’ Rights Network, Project 17 and over fifty other organisations, wrote to local authorities in England demanding that they take urgent steps to protect and support vulnerable migrants, particularly those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
On March 26th the homelessness minister wrote to councils directing them to ‘bring everyone in’. Three weeks later, many vulnerable migrants are still without shelter or enough to eat.
Today we have again written to councils in England demanding urgent action on this issue.
Among the issues we are seeing at local level are:
● Local authorities offering hotel accommodation only to ‘verified’ rough sleepers, with the result that many migrant homeless people (e.g. DV survivors, those who squat or sleep on buses) are being excluded from provision
● Housing officers telling destitute migrants that accommodation ‘can only be provided to people with recourse to public funds’
● Homeless migrants being placed in hotels far from their networks, with no/inadequate provision being made for their subsistence
● Homeless migrants being placed in hotels but given no contact details for key workers/housing officers
● Migrant rough sleepers being asked to share rooms and even beds
● Increased ‘gatekeeping’ of support provided to destitute migrant families under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989
● Threats of data-sharing with the Home Office
Central government bears much of the responsibility for the ongoing failure of councils to provide care and shelter to all who need it regardless of immigration status.
MHCLG has failed to provide detailed guidance on how local authorities should support people with insecure immigration status. There is a clear and urgent need for central government to take steps to make it easier for local authorities to provide support, including by amending the Housing Act 1996 and accompanying guidance and removing immigration-status based eligibility criteria for access to welfare benefits.
However the local-authority practice issues we are raising are crucial to the welfare, safety and wellbeing of migrant communities. The ongoing failure to provide appropriate support to all those who need it regardless of immigration status is not only a moral failure and a breach of local authorities’ Public Sector Equality Duty. It also poses a serious public health risk, leaving vulnerable migrants unable to socially distance and, where needed, self-isolate.
We are demanding that local authorities:
● Urgently direct all frontline staff, including housing officers, social services departments and commissioned service providers, to offer non-statutory accommodation and support to all people ‘who are, or are at risk of, sleeping rough, [as well as] those who are in accommodation where it is difficult to self-isolate’
● Make clear to all frontline staff that this support must be provided regardless of immigration status, and that standard legal tests for the provision of statutory support (proof of homelessness, eligibility, priority need, intentionality, local connection) are to be disregarded
● End all ‘gatekeeping’ of support for vulnerable migrants
● Ensure that all homeless people accommodated through the pandemic response are able to meet their basic needs for food, hygiene and travel (where appropriate e.g. for medical reasons)
● Communicate clearly (i.e. in writing in a language they can understand) to all homeless people accommodated through the pandemic response about where, why, by whom and for how long they are being accommodated; and whom they can contact for support in an emergency
● Make language-appropriate provision for people with disabilities, mental health and substance-misuse issues, and other support needs
● Make a public statement to the effect that all of the above support will be provided to all who need it regardless of immigration status; and that information will never be shared for immigration-enforcement purposes
Our latest letter can be read and downloaded here.