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Immigration Bill

Written evidence submitted by Crisis (IB 04)

Summary

· We have serious concerns with the proposals in Part 3 of this bill and believe they will have unintended consequences, including for homeless people.

· We are concerned that the requirement for private landlords to check their tenants’ immigration status could make it harder for homeless people to access accommodation.

· Likewise, the provisions which restrict migrants’ access to the NHS could also make it more difficult for homeless people to access healthcare.

· We hope that the government will amend this section of the bill to ensure it does not have a negative impact on homeless people and other vulnerable groups.

· We would like to see documentary requirements reduced for both renting a home and using health services.

· Accommodation used to house homeless people should be exempt from the legislation.

1. Part 3, Chapter 1 – Residential Tenancies

1.1 There are widespread concerns that these plans will lead to discrimination towards people who landlords may perceive to be non-British. If landlords know that they could be liable for a fine if they let to someone who is later found to be an illegal migrant, there is a risk they will simply not let to anyone they are not immediately confident has the right to live in the country. In high demand housing markets it will be easy for landlords to choose to let only to people they perceive as safe. Even though the Equality Act should in theory offer protection against such discrimination, it will be very difficult for prospective tenants to prove that they have been discriminated against if landlords refuse to let to them.

1.2 The requirement for landlords to check the immigration status of British and non-British citizens alike seems intended to prevent discrimination. However there will be no legal duty for landlords to make the check – instead the check will count as statutory excuse if it later turns out that someone living in the property is an illegal migrant. Landlords may therefore perceive it as easier for them to let to someone they are confident is a British citizen so that they do not have to make any checks. This again poses a risk of discrimination against people who landlords are not certain have the right to live in the country.

1.3 Even if landlords do take steps to check the identity of all prospective tenants, there is a strong chance that they will be more confident in recognising UK identity documents than passports or documents from other countries. This again may lead them to be more comfortable letting to British citizens to avoid the risk of a fine. It is welcome that there will be a Home Office enquiry service available to help landlords verify documents they are not familiar with. However, we are concerned by the timescales which are proposed for responding to enquiries. Even 48 hours, the timeframe proposed by the government, is a considerable amount of time for landlords who are in a position to let their property to someone else immediately. It is vital that the enquiry service is properly resourced so that there is a faster turnaround, with responses ideally being available on the same day.

Documents and evidence

1.4 For many homeless people, particularly single homeless people, the PRS is their main housing option. In Crisis’ experience, despite significant problems with the PRS, it can provide a stable home for vulnerable people with the right support and safeguards in place. However, accessing housing in the first place can often be a challenge. Barriers include a lack of access to cash for a deposit and rent in advance and landlord preconceptions about benefit claimants and so a reluctance to let to them. These issues can prevent or delay people moving into accommodation and so prolong their homelessness.

1.5 Many homeless people simply do not have documents such as a passport or birth certificate. They often get lost or stolen during periods of moving around or when sleeping rough or living in insecure accommodation. Sustain, a longitudinal study being carried out by Crisis and Shelter looking at the experiences of homeless people placed in the PRS, has found that a lack of ID is already a major barrier to accessing services and benefits. [1]

1.6 Other groups in housing need may also struggle to access the required identity documents. Women fleeing domestic violence for instance will often leave their home without any possessions and could struggle to retrieve them from an abusive partner. People leaving prison may also have limited documents to prove their identity. Given the strong links between stable housing and reduced reoffending it should not be made any more difficult for ex offenders to secure PRS housing.

1.7 It is possible for people to replace missing documents. However, this is not always a quick or affordable process. Replacing a passport costs £72.50 and can take up to 6 weeks to process. Replacing a birth certificate is cheaper at just £9.25 but still can take several days to arrive. For people who are receiving benefits, these costs are likely to be prohibitive.

1.8 The specified documents go beyond what is required to access other services, such as benefits. When assessing a claim for JSA, for example, JCP workers have some discretion and flexibility over the ID they will accept. There is a recognition that some people will struggle to produce identity documents such as passports and birth certificates. As a result, they will consider a wider range of forms of ID including bank cards or any kind of photo ID card. They can also make enquiries with HMRC if the claimant is struggling to produce documents.

1.9 We strongly recommend therefore that the burden of proof required by landlords is reduced to a level that homeless people and others without the specified documents are more likely to be able to meet. Crisis also urges the government to include evidence of benefits receipt on its own in the list of acceptable forms of ID – currently it must be combined with a birth certificate. In order to be in receipt of benefits, claimants must have the right to live in the UK. This will have already been verified by JCP or DWP. As prospective tenants who are in receipt of benefits have already been subject to a migration check, we believe it is unnecessary for landlords to check again.

Accommodation for homeless people

1.10 At a time of rising homelessness, we are deeply concerned that accommodation used to house homeless households may be caught under the remit of these proposals. The government has already agreed to exempt certain types of accommodation, either because another agency has verified the identity of the tenants (as is the case with social housing where the local authority has nominated the tenant) or because the accommodation is intended to house homeless people in an emergency (such as hostels). We believe these exemptions should be extended to other types of accommodation which are used to prevent homelessness or where checks on someone’s immigration status have already been made.

1.11 Crisis is funded by the DCLG to support PRS access schemes working with single homeless people across the country. Access schemes support vulnerable tenants to find PRS accommodation and to live independently, offering pre-tenancy training and ongoing help. They build relationships with landlords and offer a liaison service should problems arise. Some guarantee rent deposits, removing the need for a large cash deposit whilst still assuring the landlord that their property will be maintained and looked after.

1.12 It is already challenging to find properties and willing landlords to house people who have been homeless. Many landlords are reluctant to let to people on benefits or are prevented from doing so by their mortgage conditions. Low LHA rates mean that there is often very little accommodation that is affordable to benefit recipients. These proposals risk making the job of access schemes harder still and will place new barriers in the way of people breaking out of homelessness.

1.13 All of the schemes we fund and the vast majority of others can only work with people who have recourse to public funds so have already verified that their clients have the right to live in the country. Taking a referral from a PRS access scheme, either council or charitably run, should count as a check having been made by the landlord. Freeing landlords from having to make immigration checks in these circumstances could also help incentivise them to work with PRS access schemes and provide much needed housing for people who have been homeless.

1.13 It is welcome that PRS accommodation used by local authorities to discharge their statutory homelessness duty or to use as Temporary Accommodation will be exempt. However, there proposals could still put barriers in the way of local authorities fulfilling other duties to people who are or may be homeless.

1.14 Local authorities often use private rented accommodation to house people temporarily. They have a duty to do this whilst they make enquiries as to whether they are owed the main homelessness duty as outlined in the Homelessness Code of Guidance [2] . If the household in question has nowhere else to go, this accommodation needs to be secured immediately. We would be very concerned if this was not possible due to delays caused by the landlord having to make immigration checks. This accommodation should therefore be exempt from the proposals so that councils can meet their statutory obligations.

1.15 Councils also make use of the PRS in homelessness prevention work. Consideration must be give as to how to exempt accommodation used for this purpose in order to avoid more people becoming or staying homeless and requiring more substantial, costly help.

1.16 We would be extremely concerned if emergency accommodation offered by councils under the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) were to be included in these proposals. SWEP provision is vital to get people off the streets in very cold weather. Sleeping rough, particularly in the winter, is extremely dangerous for individuals and often leads to a range of serious health conditions and in the worst instances, fatalities. We recommend that SWEP provision is explicitly included in the exemption for ‘crisis accommodation for homeless and other vulnerable people’. Likewise the accommodation used by No Second Night Out, which can include hotel or B+B type accommodation which is paid for, should be exempt to avoid the risk of undermining the government’s flagship programme for tackling rough sleeping.

1.17 We are also concerned that, as lodgings are covered by the bill, supported lodgings schemes could be adversely affected. Supported lodgings schemes place young homeless people with a host family who are willing to provide some support and a stable environment. Most young people who are placed in a supported lodging are in receipt of LHA so have already demonstrated their right to live in the country. The supporting organisation will have verified this. We would be concerned therefore if the host family were expected to make additional checks as this extra burden and risk may deter them from taking part. We believe therefore that supported lodgings schemes should be explicitly exempt from the legislation.

2. Part 3, Chapter 2 – National Health Service

2.1 Crisis has carried out a range of research over the last ten years highlighting the critical health inequalities that homeless people face. One in three homeless people have a physical health problem for which they are not receiving treatment and up to 70% have mental health issues. [3] A survey of homeless people living in hostels   showed that more than two thirds [4] were suffering from physical health problems which included respiratory conditions, foot problems, infections and cancer.

2.2 The health problems experienced by homeless people are often compounded by barriers to accessing health services. A range of research has shown that homeless people experience difficulties accessing healthcare. Homeless individuals are forty times more likely not to be registered with a GP than the rest of the population [5] . Many GP surgeries refuse to register patents who do not have a permanent address, despite this not being a legal requirement and homeless people often lead more chaotic lives and so cannot always keep to appointments.

2.3 Shockingly, the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47. [6] Drug and alcohol are a particularly common cause of death amongst homeless people, accounting for just over a third of all deaths. Death as a result of infection is twice as likely for homeless people . Homeless people are also nine times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population.

2.4 Homelessness and poor physical and mental health go hand in hand and we believe more needs to be done to help homeless people access primary health care. We are concerned that the proposed changes are a step in the wrong direction and will in fact further limit access for homeless people.

Documents and evidence

2.5 It is not clear how people will be expected to demonstrate their entitlement to healthcare. We are concerned that there could be a requirement for everyone to prove their identity, whether a non-EEA migrant who has paid the health levy or a British or EEA citizen who does not need to. Homeless people may face problems in proving their entitlement due to not having the necessary documentation.

2.6 These issues related to proving entitlement are likely to exacerbate the existing problems accessing health services that homeless people face. Within the current system homeless people, are already four times more likely to turn to A&E for primary health care needs. [7] The proposed changes are likely to further increase the number of homeless people that rely on A&E, adding to pressure on these already busy services. Additionally, if health problems are left untreated there is an increased risk that they will become more serious and require more significant treatment. This has a cost implication for the NHS.

2.7 We strongly recommend therefore that the Department of Health considers very carefully how people will be expected to demonstrate their entitlement to healthcare and ensures that there are provisions for those including homeless people who may struggle to prove their identity.

Specialist health services

2.8 There are a range of specialist services for homeless people, including GP surgeries which offer tailored services and health professionals who go into hostels or day centres. It is not clear how they would be affected by these proposals. Crisis does not believe that they should be expected to check someone’s entitlement to NHS healthcare before offering them a consultation or treatment. Many of the people they are aiming to reach will not be able to easily prove their identity. If they were required to check, this would seriously limit the opportunities that homeless people have to see doctors, nurses or others health professionals.

2.9 Crisis Skylight centres provide a number of key services, including mental health help and eye-tests, which are specifically established to help single homeless people who struggle to access mainstream services. At Crisis at Christmas in 2012, 634 homeless guests had healthcare consultations as well as accessing a range of services. For homeless people experiencing poor health these services are a vital recourse.

2.10 It is unclear whether these proposals would apply to voluntary sector health services. We believe on principle that the government should not place restrictions on the patients who health services funded by voluntary donations are able to treat. We provide services to the most vulnerable members of society, many of whom have been let down by mainstream NHS services. It would be deeply concerning if they were also not able to access our health services due to a lack of documentation and were prevented from getting treatment altogether.

Infectious diseases

2.11 There are high er levels of tuberculosis within the homelessness population, and whilst Crisis welcomes the Department of Health’s decision that treatment from infectious disease will be exempt from these plans we are concerned that the proposed changes may still have an unintended impact. I f people without documents do not recognise their symptoms a s being indicative of tuberculosis they will choose not to seek health advice and so will not receive treatment. Beyond the potentially devastating consequences to homeless people’s health, higher levels of tuberculosis would pose a serious risk to the general public.

3. About Crisis

3.1 Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help people to transform their lives.

3.2 As well as delivering services, we are determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and advocating solutions informed by research and our direct experience. Crisis has ambitious plans for the future and we are committed to help more people in more places across the UK. We know we won’t end homelessness overnight or on our own but we take a lead, collaborate with others and, together, make change happen.

October 2014


[1] Crisis and Shelter (2012) Sustain: a longitudinal study of housing wellbeing in the private sector (interim findings)

[2] DCLG (2006) Homelessness Code of Guidance

[3] Crisis, (2005), From the margins to the mainstream: a new model of public service delivery

[4] St Mungo’s (2005) SOS Sick of Suffering

[5] Ibid

[6] Crisis (2012) Homelessness Kills

[7] Crisis, (2005), Your health, your care, your say

Prepared 30th October 2013