Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

25May 2022

New PILC/JCWI report on migrants in Covid-19

25th May 2022|

PILC and JCWI have today published a joint report on migrants’ experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, entitled Unequal Impacts: How UK immigration law and policy affected migrants’ experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, explores how UK law and government decision-making have exacerbated the impact of Covid-19 on migrants, particularly those with insecure immigration status.

The report’s areas of focus are access to justice, Home Office applications, state support, healthcare, and the asylum accommodation system, as well as immigration enforcement. Across all these areas, we highlight how the government’s anti-migrant approach has exposed migrants to increased risk from Covid-19, undermined public health efforts and introduced greater dysfunctionality into an already-broken immigration system.

The report’s authors, Ellen Fotheringham and Caitlin Boswell, urge the prime minister to ensure that the Covid-19 Inquiry examines how flaws in the immigration system have put migrants’ lives at risk during the pandemic.

The report can be downloaded here.

A full press release is here.

5May 2022

Southwark overcrowding case in court today

5th May 2022|

On Thursday 5th May we are in court for the hearing in our client’s judicial review challenge to Southwark council’s housing allocations policy.

Our client, Milton, lives with his wife, son and daughter in a privately rented studio apartment in Southwark. They are severely overcrowded and have endured extremely cramped housing conditions for almost five years. The family applied to join Southwark’s housing register in April 2018. However, Southwark has refused to prioritise the family’s application for housing. The council claims that the family’s overcrowding is the result of a ‘deliberate act’.

However, Milton and his family had no choice but to move into their current accommodation.  As Milton explains with the help of his daughter Rebecca: ‘I had to move to this flat. When we looked at other places the agencies asked us for many months’ rent in advance. I couldn’t rent a bigger house because it was too expensive.’

As Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have highlighted this week, Southwark council have spent a large amount of money and resources defending this case – money that could have been spent on tackling exploitative landlords and supporting Southwark residents. HASL are running an email campaign demanding that Southwark remove the ‘deliberate act’ provision and stop blaming families for their poor living conditions.

We will provide a legal update on the outcome of this case over the next few weeks.

6Jul 2021

Student support case in court today

6th July 2021|

Today and tomorrow we are in the High Court for a two-day hearing on a judicial-review challenge to the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011. The case raises the question of the right to state support that accompanies the right of residence derivative of the exercise of freedom of movement rights by a British citizen and their family.

Our client is a Zimbabwean national married to a British citizen. She was refused maintenance support for her degree studies because of her immigration status.

At the time she was refused maintenance support our client was exercising Surinder Singh rights. These rights allow a British citizen who has lived in an European Economic Area (EEA) country exercising EEA rights of residence to bring qualifying family members back to the UK to live here.

Student maintenance support is generally available to the family members of EEA nationals who have exercised free movement rights. However, the Student Loan Company refused to award our client maintenance support for her degree because her husband is a British citizen. This happened because the definition of an EEA migrant worker in the relevant regulations excluded EEA nationals who were British citizens.

Being refused a maintenance loan has caused our client and her family considerable stress and financial hardship. She is arguing that the regulations that excluded her are a breach of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and contrary to the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination in EU Law.

PILC’s Helen Mowatt is the solicitor in the case. Counsel are Adrian Berry of Garden Court Chambers and David Lawson of Serjeants’ Inn.

We will provide a further update once there is a judgment in the case.

1Jul 2021

PILC launches EU homeless rights report

1st July 2021|

UPDATE (12/07/21): The full recording of our online launch event for this report is now available, with speakers including: Mihai Calin Bica from Roma Support Group; Polina Manolova from the University of Tübingen; PILC’s research and communications coordinator Benjamin Morgan; and Agnieszka Radziwinowiczówna from the University of Warsaw.

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On Jul 1 2021 PILC published a research report on the key rights and social-justice issues faced by homeless and otherwise marginalised EU citizens living in the UK. The report, entitled Still Here: Defending the rights of homeless EU citizens after Brexit and Covid-19, is based on research, casework and litigation undertaken through our EU homeless rights project (2018-21).

Our report finds that EU citizens living in the UK experienced large-scale destitution and rights violations well before Brexit. Homeless EU citizens were especially at risk of not having their rights upheld by statutory agencies, while the legal exclusion or ‘differential inclusion’ of EU citizens with respect to social assistance was a major cause of destitution, including rough sleeping.

We identify three overlapping groups of EU citizens who were particularly exposed to poverty, hyper exploitation and rights violations before Brexit : working-class EU citizens from the ‘A8’ and ‘A2’ countries of Central and Eastern Europe; EU citizens or qualifying non-EU family members who may identify or be racialised as non-white; and survivors of domestic abuse.

Our advocacy report proceeds via an analysis of six key rights areas (access to housing; support for domestic-abuse survivors; access to welfare benefits; employment rights; access to NHS care; and access to community care), illustrated with examples from PILC’s casework and litigation.

We then discuss issues relating to EU citizens’ right to remain after Brexit, showing that the UK’s departure from the EU is likely to exacerbate the rights issues faced by marginalised Europeans. This section of our report looks at current and historic policies aimed at deporting homeless EU citizens and the shortcomings of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). We also analyse the experiences of destitute EU citizens during Covid-19, an issue first covered in detail in a 2020 report co-authored by PILC.

The final section of the report examines the homelessness sector’s work with EU citizens. We argue that the sector in the shape of local authorities and commissioned services is failing marginalised Europeans, and non-UK nationals more broadly. We suggest that a culture change is urgently needed, and that the sector must assert the right to shelter, welfare assistance and to remain of all EU citizens in the UK.

28Jun 2021

Rough sleeping rule challenge: update

28th June 2021|

On 1 December 2020 the government amended the Immigration Rules to make rough sleeping a ground for cancelling or refusing permission to stay in the UK.

On 2 December 2020 PILC, instructed by the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL), formally wrote to the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) to request that the new rough sleeping rule be repealed. We argued that the rule was unlawful, disproportionate, discriminatory and violated the UK’s international obligations in respect of victims of trafficking. PILC also sent the SSHD a detailed report evidencing the potential effect of the new rule on non-UK nationals sleeping rough.

On 6 April 2021 the rough sleeping rule was amended so that permission may only be refused or cancelled where a rough sleeper has also:

  • repeatedly refused suitable offers of support; and
  • engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour (ASB)

On 20 April 2021 the Home Office published guidance on the interpretation of the rough sleeping rule. This guidance significantly limits the scope of the rule.

There is little doubt that these changes have come about as a direct result of our legal action and strong opposition from the voluntary sector, local authorities and trade unions.

In light of the recent changes to the rough sleeping rule, we have updated our factsheet for homeless non-UK nationals and those supporting them.

What does this mean for PILC’s legal challenge?

Although the latest guidance appears to have significantly limited the scope of the rough sleeping rule, a number of concerns remain:

  1. The rule may result in people who find it hard to engage with services as a result of mental health difficulties, lack of mental capacity or substance-misuse issues being targeted for immigration enforcement. The behaviour of such individuals may be interpreted as ‘anti-social behaviour’.
  2. The rule presents a significant risk to Roma people whose needs have historically not been met by support services and who have been disproportionately targeted for local-authority and immigration enforcement in recent years.
  3. The ‘available support’ listed in the Home Office guidance is largely applicable to non-UK nationals with recourse to public funds. Little effective support to leave the streets is available to the group most likely to be affected by the rule: non-UK national rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
  4. We are concerned that the rule may be used coercively, with rough sleepers being offered ‘voluntary’ return and threatened with deportation if they refuse. It remains unclear who will decide whether ‘voluntary return’ is a ‘suitable’ support option. Although the Home Office guidance suggests ‘voluntary return’ as an option for those ‘who want to go home’, ‘voluntary return’ (or ‘reconnection’) has historically been offered to rough sleepers as a ‘single service offer’.
  5. Anti-social behaviour powers raise significant issues around proportionality, due process and accountability. Rough sleepers are commonly targeted by ASB enforcement measures—often just for rough sleeping. The evidence threshold for the issuing of Community Protection Notices (CPNs) is significantly lower than for older ASB orders.
  6. The rough sleeping rule lends itself to misuse or abuse by empowering individual local authorities to advise Immigration Enforcement around support available/refused and target individuals/groups with ASB orders or notices.

We remain committed to:

  • Pressuring the government to scrap the rough sleeping rule altogether.
  • Monitoring how the rule is being implemented on the ground and challenging the government in cases where it is being abused or misapplied

We will continue to provide updates about our legal challenge in this area.

What can I do?

If you or someone you know is affected by the rule, or if you believe the local authority in which you live or work may be planning to co-operate with the rough sleeping rule, please contact office@pilc.org.uk

You can also support one or both of two active campaigns opposing the rough sleeping rule: