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formally wrote to the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) to request that the new rough sleeping rule be repealed.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: