PILC, along with the Institute of Community Research and Development at the University of Wolverhampton, Project 17, ASIRT and Migrants’ Rights Network, has published a report into the support provided by English local authorities to people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our key research findings were as follows:

  • There was a lack of information available for people with NRPF on how to access support during the pandemic
  • People with NRPF who contracted Covid-19 were particularly likely to die or become seriously ill
  • People with NRPF struggled to access food and shelter during the pandemic, with local-authority ‘gatekeeping’ continuing to be a major issue

Local authorities have statutory duties towards two categories of people with NRPF: families with ‘children in need’ and adults with care needs. But there are significant variations in how these duties are implemented. Many migrants in need of support were unable to access their entitlements before Covid-19.

During the pandemic, local authorities were called upon by central government to provide support to a third group of people with NRPF who would not normally be eligible for assistance: single homeless adults without care needs. Our research shows that, while some councils put in place effective emergency support for this group, the England-wide response of local authorities was frequently characterised by confusion, a lack of information about support options, and gaps in essential provision (e.g. food).

Our research focuses on the period during which the UK was in ‘lockdown’. But the problems highlighted in our report continue. Local authorities continue to be underfunded and many people with NRPF still live in destitution.

It is unclear what will happen to homeless adults with NRPF who have no statutory entitlement to support as public-health concerns subside. No new legislation or statutory guidance has been introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to amend the entitlement to local-authority support of people with NRPF who would not ordinarily be eligible.

The effect of the absence of new legislation or statutory guidance has been twofold. Firstly, the support provided to this group has been inconsistent and unpredictable both within and across local authorities. Secondly,  it has been difficult for individuals or their advocates to effectively challenge local authorities in cases where single NRPF adults have been refused support or accommodation or where the accommodation or support offered has been inadequate.

Our research indicates that while some local authorities are trying to respond in a way that respects people’s rights and dignity, others do not want to continue to support people with NRPF, with a number planning to resort to so-called ‘voluntary returns’ or ‘reconnection’. In the view of many of our research participants, only an urgent end to the NRPF system can adequately address the problems that have been highlighted by COVID-19.