Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA), Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network and the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) (IB 50)

Immigration Bill

1. Summary

Changes to support for certain categories of migrant (clause 34 and Schedule 6)

1.1 The changes to the asylum support system set out in Schedule 6 are likely to result in increased referrals to local authorities of families who have been refused asylum in the UK. Data from the No Recourse to Public Funds Database (NRPF) highlights that of the 34 local authorities who participate, they are supporting 2154 households described as being ‘without recourse to public funds’ with accommodation and other financial support. This support is at an average cost of £16,667 which represents an annual expenditure of £32 million. [1]

1.2 If support for those seeking asylum is withdrawn as a result of non-compliance with return, then the proposed changes in the Immigration Bill represent a clear and currently unfunded transfer of responsibility from the Home Office to local authorities. This includes costs of assessing and, if necessary, supporting those requiring support.

1.3 The Government is tabling amendments which seek to create a new stream of support for destitute families and former looked after children in England who have no immigration status. Under their proposals accommodation and financial support will no longer be provided to such people under the Children Act 1989. We are working with the Home Office to ensure that safeguarding responsibilities to children and their families remain in place and that any new burdens on authorities are assessed and met.

1.4 The wider measures within the Bill seek to create a ‘hostile’ environment for migrants who have no migration status, thereby increasing the risk of presentations to local authorities if there are children or other vulnerabilities to address. The changes are likely to particularly affect the most vulnerable, such as families with children, adults who require care and former looked after children. We are worried that the proposed measures will significantly increase the numbers of destitute adults and families within communities, leading to safeguarding and cohesion concerns.

1.5 The average time on local authority support for a single case remains in excess of two years. Local authorities are committed to working with the Home Office to improve compliance with immigration processes for families on local authority and asylum support. We wish to work with Government to ensure that the immigration system works more effectively by, for example, getting decisions right on asylum applications, minimising the impact of the lengthy appeals process on extending local authority support, and on progressing cases to removal should the claim be unsuccessful. We also wish to see that local authority supported cases are given priority.

1.6 We are not convinced that the removal of support will encourage an increase in the numbers of refused asylum seekers and other unlawfully present migrants leaving the UK. As previous ‘Section 9’ pilots in 2004-5 demonstrated, removal of support does not necessarily encourage an increase in the numbers returned. The proposed provisions in the Bill could serve to encourage people to go ‘underground’, reducing both their engagement with the removals process and with statutory services, thus increasing their risk of exploitation. We wish to work with Government to explore how families can best engage with the removals process and the local government role, if any, in this.

English language provisions (clauses 38 and 41)

1.7 The proposals in clauses 38 and 41 to require customer-facing public authority staff to speak fluent English will have legal, financial and employment implications for councils, even though the vast majority of council staff speak fluent English. The draft code of practice published by the Cabinet Office is clear that the fluency duty applies to existing staff as well as any newly recruited staff. Although council staff are as diverse as the communities they serve, and councils will always seek to ensure their staff have an adequate standard of English to communicate with residents the provisions mean councils will need to review their HR policies and practices. The code could also mean they have to offer staff training or redeployment where they do not meet the standard, and will require local authorities to establish and operate appropriate complaints procedures. The Cabinet Office is working with the LGA and councils to properly assess the new burden impact of these measures.

Further information

2. Changes to support for certain categories of migrant (clause 34 and Schedule 6)

2.1 Directors of Children’s Services have a statutory duty set out in the Children Act 2004 to secure the best outcomes for all children and young people in a local area and for keeping them safe. Local authorities are required to intervene to prevent and alleviate child homelessness.

2.2 Councils support the existence of a safety net for migrants who face restrictions to the welfare state on account of their immigration status. This support avoids the most vulnerable in our society becoming homeless and at risk of significant harm.

2.3 Local authorities already face a considerable cost burden in providing this safety net support. The table below sets out the numbers of cases and costs to local authority budgets from three separate sources:

· The NRPF Connect database: This is a Home Office funded database used by local authorities to record NRPF caseloads and by the Home Office to verify immigration status and progress supported cases. There is no statutory requirement to use NRPF Connect, to date 34 local authorities have decided to join. [2]

· A survey of London Boroughs undertaken by London Councils in 2015 focusing on the costs of supporting NRPF cases in the Capital in the financial year 2014/2015.

· Centre on Migration Policy & Society (COMPAS), Safeguarding Children from Destitution, Local Authority responses to families with NRPF, June 2015. This is a major study from Oxford University into the area of NRPF service provision, responsibilities under s17 Children Act 1989 and local authority practice.

Data Source

Data period

LAs participating

Number of households reported

Number of dependants

Average per annum cost per household

Annual expenditure

NRPF Connect database

Quarter 2 data – as at 30/09/15

34 local authorities signed-up to use database.

2154

3825

£16,667

£32 million (accom. and subsistence expenditure only)

London Councils survey

Financial year 2014/15

32 London Boroughs participating in survey

Estimated 3200 during the year (2500 at year end)

Not provided

Between £16,000 and £26,000 for majority of local authorities

£50 million (including staff time and other costs)

COMPAS

Financial year 2012/13 – Family cases only

137 local authorities responding to survey.

3391

5900

Not provided

£28 million (estimated cost, accom. Subs only).

2.4 Data from the three sources outlined above confirms that NRPF service provision is not short term in nature, with the average time for a single case to remain on local authority support being in excess of two years.

2.5 We are concerned that the proposed measures within the Immigration Bill will significantly increase the numbers of destitute adults, families and homeless children within communities, creating safeguarding and cohesion issues.

2.6 There is a parallel concern that those who are not covered by local authority statutory duties, such as single adults with no children or care needs, will have no access to support and will become destitute.

2.7 We appreciate that in the asylum support reform consultation response, the Home Office appears to accept responsibility for engaging with families during the grace period. However without further detail of this, and without confirmation of how long the grace period will be, it is difficult to assess how this may impact on the take up of voluntary return and Home Office enforcement of returns

2.8 There are currently low rates of assisted voluntary returns and enforced returns by the Home Office to people’s country of origin. In the year ending March 2015, 1,820 Assisted Voluntary Returns and 23,406 voluntary departures took place. 12,498 enforced removals were undertaken; less than in the preceding year [3] . In 2014-15, one per cent of Home Office outcomes recorded on NRPF Connect were removals. Low removal rates also indicate to refused asylum seekers and migrants who have no immigration permission that an enforced return is an unlikely outcome of their particular case.

2.9 Many families successfully apply for leave to remain under the Immigration Rules, thereby lengthening the period of support from social services whilst claims are decided. The average time on local authority support for a single case remains in excess of two years.

2.10 The Home Office’s processes regarding progressing cases to removal were criticised by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in his report, An Inspection of Overstayers: How the Home Office handles the cases of individuals with no right to stay in the UK [4] .

2.11 The costs of NRPF Service provision remain unfunded despite the work of local government to urge for funding and reimbursement arrangements. Indeed, financial remuneration through the New Burdens doctrine is increasingly important given the scale of cuts to local authority budgets.

Assumptions regarding behavioural changes

2.12 A key objective of the proposals is that the changes will remove financial incentives for refused asylum seekers and other unlawfully present migrants to remain in the UK and, as a result, will return to their countries of origin. Local authorities are concerned that this behavioural change will not take place as widely as intended. Between December 2004 and December 2005, a pilot was undertaken in a number of local authority areas where asylum support was terminated for refused families by the Home Office enacting paragraph 7A of Schedule 3 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. In their report assessing the impact of the ‘Section 9’ pilots, Barnardos found that 35 out of 116 families had disappeared, losing all contact with public services [5] .

2.13 Following concerns raised during the consultation period, the Home Office appears to have accepted responsibility for engaging with families to encourage return once they are refused asylum, during the ‘grace period’ before support is stopped.

2.14 We welcome the recognition that engagement in the removals process is easier to achieve when children and their families are known to the Home Office or authorities. We wish to work with Government to develop how any scheme will run, building on existing good practice that seeks to safeguard children, and to what extent any local authority involvement will be required.

2.15 It is likely that costs to local authorities will be higher where families have ‘gone underground’ and present to councils at a later stage with significant safeguarding concerns following a period of destitution and forced dependency on informal and potentially exploitative living arrangements. We are therefore keen to work with the Home Office to explore why there are currently low rates of enforced removals and family returns, and why the removal of support is seen to be the deciding factor in leveraging compliance with returns.

Improvements to the current system

2.16 Local authorities are committed to working with the Home Office in improving compliancy with immigration processes for families on local authority asylum support.

2.17 Such work includes providing clear guidance and training support to local authorities on statutory duties via the NRPF Network, including existing exclusions to social services support under Schedule 3 Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; better data-sharing arrangements as exampled through the NRPF Connect database; local authorities paying for Home Office embedded officers to support assessment and review processes; and an opportunity to contribute to discussions about how Home Office removal processes may be made more efficient following refusal of applications for LTR in the UK.

2.18 Local authority supported cases should be prioritised and there are existing joint mechanisms to achieve this. NRPF Connect is a national database used by local authorities and the Home Office. It allows local authorities to obtain timely immigration status information from the Home Office; the database provides information on cases which the Home Office can then prioritise for case resolution. Since April 2015, across the 34 local authorities using NRPF Connect, 1659 referrals have been recorded.

2.19 Stopping support will need to result in those refused asylum leaving the UK. We wish to work with Government to ensure that case resolution, including removals, becomes more effective. From the experience of local authorities, the failure to achieve returns is result of procedural and case-working delays, as opposed to the reluctance to co-operate with the return process. Resolution of cases is also not solely achieved by voluntary departure.

Next steps

Government amendments

2.20 Previously local authorities have raised concerns about the unfunded transfer of costs from the Home Office to councils and the complexity of applying the exclusions to social services support under Schedule 3, Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Government has tabled amendments to the Bill seeking to create a new stream of support for destitute families and former looked after children in England who have no immigration status. Accommodation and financial support will no longer be provided to such people under the Children Act 1989, although this will remain accessible to European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and non-EEA nationals who are lawfully living in the UK.

2.21 We are keen to continue to explore with the Home Office how to simplify the current complex system of administering support for destitute families and former looked after children in England who have no immigration status. This includes seeking an assurance from Government that where a local authority has concerns in relation to safeguarding or child protection issues for care leavers or children in migrant families without status, they would retain the ability to act on these concerns and that they would be prevented from becoming destitute whilst remaining in this country. Assuming the Government’s amendments are passed, we would wish to engage with Government on how any statutory guidance will clarify the operation of the new arrangements in order to support councils in implementing them.

Funding

2.22 The recognition from the Home Office that any new arrangements should be assessed under the new burden assessment is positive. However despite these positive developments, we remain concerned that the outcome of the legislation will be an increased number of referrals to social services, resulting in increased costs to councils. All available data shows that local authorities can be supporting adults and children from vulnerable migrant groups for a number of years. We therefore welcome the offer by the Home Office that local government continues to work with them to explore how families can engage in the returns process, and how local authority supported cases can be prioritised.

Transitional arrangements

2.23 Instances of destitution could increase because of the measures in the Bill to limit the ability of migrants to remain self-supporting and to withdraw asylum support in specified circumstances. This is why we are recommending that Government sets out in greater detail how it provide transitional support to those who are no longer eligible for their support but have not yet left the country.

2.24 During Committee Stage the Government has recognised the need to identify, clarify and address how the different legislative context for local authorities in Wales and Scotland will apply in relation to its proposal and this is an important development.

3. Language requirements for public sector workers (clauses 38 and 41)

3.1 The provisions in Clause 38 of the Immigration Bill requiring public authority staff in a customer-facing role to speak fluent English will have legal, employment and financial implications for local authorities given the diverse range of services provided by councils and the diverse workforce they employ, which reflect the communities’ councils serve.

3.2 The Cabinet Office published the draft code of practice which will apply to public sector workers on 19 October 2015, and is seeking views on the proposals set out in it. The draft code covers which workers might be considered to be in a customer-facing role, what standard could be required to meet the fluency duty, what action public authorities could take where staff do not meet the fluency requirements, and the introduction of a complaints system to cover the duty.

3.3 The draft code defines a customer-facing role as one where regular and anticipated interaction with the public is an intrinsic part of the job. The code suggests that staff in a council’s call centre or a teaching assistant would be caught by this definition, but a council street cleaner would not be. Being fluent means having a command of spoken English or Welsh (in Wales) which is sufficient to enable the effective performance of their role. Ultimately it will be up to councils to decide themselves what roles the new duty applies to and what levels of fluency are required in what roles. The code though applies to existing staff as well as newly recruited staff.

3.4 Although councils make every effort to ensure their staff have an adequate standard of English to communicate with residents, councils will need to review their HR practices and policies, revise selection and appointment practices as well as employment contracts so they are compliant with the code and ensure consistency when advertising for similar types of customer-facing roles. Where a member of staff does not meet the required standard councils will have to consider providing training or re-training so staff have the opportunity of meeting the standard. If the member of staff is unable to meet the necessary standard adjustments to their role will need to be considered, such as moving them to a non-customer-facing role. Councils will also need to have procedures in place to allow members of the public to complain where they feel a worker is not fluent enough in English or Welsh.

3.5 The impact assessment produced by the Cabinet Office for the draft code anticipates that between 0.4-1.2 per cent of public sector workers might be affected by the introduction of the new duty, but they do not have all the information needed to properly assess the financial impact of introducing the new duty. The LGA and councils will be working with the Cabinet Office so there is a proper assessment of the impact and to ensure that the new burdens on councils are fully funded.

4. Licensing

4.1 C lause 10 and Schedule 1 of the Immigration Bill introduce amendments to the Licensing Act 2003 which require licensing authorities to make additional checks on applicants for personal and premises licences.

4.2 While illegal working does occur in some licensed premises, it more commonly involves sales staff or auxiliary workers and almost never involves someone licensed to run the premises. The LGA’s joint work with the National Fraud Initiative in the Cabinet Office during the past year did not reveal any illegal workers licensed to run an alcohol premises.

4.3 The LGA has held constructive discussions with the Home Office to refine these proposals and target them more effectively. Councils already work closely with the Border Agency and the new powers of entry and closure will simplify this work, which is to be welcomed. We are less convinced that the additional checks on applications will identify significant numbers of illegal workers, but they are not burden some and we do not oppose them.

4.4 There are also proposals to introduce comparable checks to the taxi licensing regime. These are expected to be introduced via amendment at a later stage in the bill process. Licensing authorities inform us that there are more instances of illegal working discovered when checking applicants to be a taxi driver, with around 330 applicants revealed to have no right to work by the National Fraud Initiative during the last year. Councils therefore believe that these additional checks will be a welcome additional tool for councils in ensuring that applicants are ‘fit and proper’ people to be driving licensed vehicles.

4.5 It is important that the additional requirements for alcohol and taxi licensing remain light touch and do not impose requirements that run counter to councils’ obligation to accept all applications for alcohol licences online (under the Provision of Services Regulations 2009). It is also important that the Home Office commits to providing effective training for licensing authorities on identifying forged documents, as this will be a new skill for them to apply.

November 2015


[1] For further information please visit the No Recourse to Public Funds website at: http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Pages/Home.aspx

[2] A full list of participating local authorities is available at www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/nrpfconnect

[3] Immigration Statistics, January to March 2015 . Home Office, 21 May 2015.

[4] An Inspection of Overstayers: How the Home Office handles the cases of individuals with no right to stay in the UK (May – June 2014). Vine, J. Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, December 2014.

[5] The End of the Road, the impact on families of section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 . Barnardos & the Refugee Children’s Consortium, Autumn 2005, page 6.

Prepared 18th November 2015