DWP's response to the coronavirus outbreak Contents

4People with no recourse to public funds

64.Many non-UK nationals with leave to remain in the UK, such as people on work or family visas, are subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition, which prohibits them from claiming a large number of benefits.63 The condition also means that some British children whose parent(s) have NRPF due to their immigration status are effectively unable to access many benefits, as they are unable to make a claim in their own right. This scenario formed the background of a recent case before the High Court, brought on behalf of a British child whose mother has NRPF as a condition of her visa, in which the court found that the condition ‘as presently formulated’ is unlawful.64 Following the coronavirus outbreak, a coalition of over 70 organisations and individuals led by NACCOM (the no-accommodation network, an organisation that provides support to people who are facing destitution due to their immigration status) published an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to suspend the condition.65

How many people have NRPF?

65.There is currently no reliable public data on how many people are subject to NRPF conditions. We wrote to the Home Secretary on 11 May, jointly with the Home Affairs Committee, asking her department to provide its assessment of the number of people with NRPF, but have so far not received a response.

66.During his appearance before the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister committed to find out “how many [people] there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help”.66 In response to a Parliamentary Question from the Chair on 2 June on the number of people granted leave to remain with NRPF conditions in 2019, however, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration said that data is “not assured to the standard required by ONS for publication” and “as it would be too costly to do so, [the Home Office] cannot provide it”.67

67.In its report ‘A Lifeline for All’, the Children’s Society has attempted to assess the number of people affected using Migration Observatory data. Its report said:

Analysis of Home Office migrant journey data by the Migration Observatory suggests that at least a hundred thousand children under 18 and a million adults could be affected. The analysis shows that there were 142,496 children under 18 and 1,002,091 adults who had leave to remain in the UK at 31st December 2016 (as main applicants and dependents).68

68.However, the Children’s Society emphasises that there are still many ‘gaps and unknowns’ in the available data. The figures above also only account for people with leave to remain, and do not include people whose immigration status is precarious (for example, undocumented migrants), who also cannot access public funds. Azmina Siddique of the Children’s Society told us of her “frustration” at the lack of reliable figures from the Home Office.69

The impact of NRPF

69.We have heard evidence that having NRPF is creating additional hardship for households who are already struggling or who have lost income due to the outbreak. When asked about the impact of the NRPF condition, Azmina Siddique told us:

These families, as we know from our frontline work with them, have lived hand to mouth for years, trapped within cycles of destitution, in cramped accommodation, thousands of pounds in debts trying to pay for immigration fees. This is being made worse right now because these families do not have a safety net on which to fall back. They can’t afford not to work, so they are putting themselves and their families at risk.70

70.Jessie Seal of NACCOM told us that lack of access to public funds presents a ‘significant challenge’ to people who are trying to access accommodation during the outbreak. She shared a case study of a young man with NRPF who, after being made homeless as a result of the outbreak, had been unable to access support from various services due to his NRPF status. Although he was eventually housed following a threat of legal action, he was not eligible for any subsistence support. She explained that:

[This case] illustrates the difficulty and the abject poverty that people are being placed in by having no recourse to public funds. [ … ] We need really clear and sensible measures to lift NRPF, so that people can access support.71

71.The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee looked at the impact of the NRPF condition in its inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector. It heard evidence that people with NRPF may be at greater risk of becoming homeless during the current crisis. Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, a housing charity, told the Committee:

There is a massive issue around the so-called no recourse to public funds. The fact that people, under normal circumstances, are not allowed to access the housing benefit system or universal credit because of their migration status means that, as people move out of safe accommodation and hotels, even with a great willingness to rehouse, there is a great risk that those people who do not have recourse to public funds will now be our rough sleeping population.72

Jamie Carswell, representing London Councils, told the Committee in response to a question from our Chair that an estimated 900 of the 3,600 rough sleepers rehoused during an exercise in London are people with NRPF.73

What support is available for people with NRPF?

72.When asked about support for people with NRPF on 23 March, the Home Secretary told the House that the Home Office was “working on a range of measures across Government and at pace”, including with DWP, to support people affected.74 This was followed by a commitment from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 25 March, who told the House that “if people are falling through the social safety net [ … ] we will stand ready to address that and support them.”75 When asked by our Chair about the possibility of suspending the NRPF condition, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the House on 28 April that this issue “had been discussed [ … ] with the implementation group and it is under review”.76 The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed that the Government had established four implementation groups to lead the response to the pandemic, including a group, chaired by him, which is focused on supporting the delivery of public services.

73.However, Ministers fell short of expressly committing to suspend the NRPF condition. In response to a Parliamentary Question published on 20 May, Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, said that the Government did not “believe it is necessary to suspend the NRPF condition” and that it would “keep the situation under review and consider further measures if needed”.77

74.During his appearance before the Liaison Committee on 27 May, the Prime Minister was asked by our Chair about support for people with NRPF, with specific reference to a family in his constituency. The Prime Minister appeared to be surprised by the fact that people with NRPF cannot claim Universal Credit or other benefits. .He said:

Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another, but you have raised a very, very important point [ … ] we will see what we can do to help.78

75.In her letter of 28 April, the Home Secretary told us that people with NRPF can benefit from some of the measures introduced by the Government, including changes to Statutory Sick Pay and protections for renters. In addition, people with NRPF have the option of applying to have the condition lifted if there has been a change in their financial circumstances; since lockdown, the Home Office has ‘digitised’ the application form, allowing people to apply from home if required.79

76.Following his appearance before the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister responded on 4 June to a letter from our Chair about the support available for people with NRPF. In his letter, he said that the support provided under the two schemes announced by the Government–the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)–is not classed as a ‘public fund’, and that employees or self-employed people with NRPF can access assistance through the relevant scheme.80

77.Some organisations, however, told us that there has been a lack of clarity over whether people with NRPF can access support from their local authority. In the Budget, the Government announced a new £500 million hardship fund for local authorities to support financially vulnerable people in their local area through council tax relief and other discretionary support. The Government have since announced a further £3.2 billion of funding for local authorities.

78.On 24 March, the Government published guidance for local authorities on allocating their share of the hardship fund. It is, however, not clear from the guidance whether people with NRPF can access this support.81 In correspondence, DWP Ministers told us that the hardship fund is not classed as a ‘public fund’ under Home Office regulations. However, this message does not appear to have filtered down to local authorities. Azmina Siddique of the Children’s Society noted the lack of “clear guidance” on whether “the hardship fund or money from local welfare assistance schemes, which are public funds, can be used to help those with no recourse to public funds”, including people who are at risk of homelessness.82 Jessie Seal of NACCOM also told us:

First, the provision that people have been able to access is currently patchy from local authority to local authority, precisely because there is no recourse to public funds and because of different interpretations across different local authorities about what support they can offer.83

79.Following our oral evidence session of 23 April, we wrote to Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, asking whether local authorities who are providing support to people with no recourse to public funds, such as accommodation, during the outbreak can reclaim these costs from the Government. In a letter of 15 May, the Minister referred to the £3.2 billion of support that the Government has provided to local authorities, and an additional £3.2 million in targeted funding that has been made available to support rough sleepers. He went on to say that local authorities should ‘use their judgement’ when deciding what funding they should use to support people with no recourse to public funds.

80.As a result of the no recourse to public funds condition, many hardworking and law-abiding people are being left without a social safety net and at risk of destitution and homelessness. Although there is no official estimate of the number of people with NRPF, it is likely that the number exceeds 1 million and includes at least 100,000 children. In the midst of a pandemic, the condition leaves people with an invidious choice: stay at home and face hardship, or go to work and risk catching or spreading coronavirus.

81.We appreciate that, in normal times, applying visa conditions which require people to support themselves financially without being a burden on the state may be a reasonable policy approach. But during a pandemic it cannot be in the public interest to expect people, some of whom are key workers and front-line medical staff, to comply fully with restrictive public health guidance while simultaneously denying them full access to the welfare safety net. Ministers have been telling us for months that they are working on this issue. The Prime Minister himself has promised to see what can be done. But people need support now. In these exceptional circumstances, the Government should immediately suspend NRPF conditions on public health grounds for the duration of the outbreak. Following the various ministerial commitments in the House, the Government should also set out exactly what measures it has taken so far to support people with NRPF, and include details of any ministerial implementation groups or other fora that have been set up to consider this issue.

82.We cannot understand why the Government does not appear to hold any reliable data on the number of people with NRPF. Without publicly available data, it is difficult to assess how many people are subject to this condition and to determine what support they need. In line with the Prime Minister’s commitment at the Liaison Committee, the Government should collect and publish data on how many people have no recourse to public funds, including an estimate of how many people cannot access public funds because their immigration status is precarious. Given the evidence suggesting that people with NRPF face challenges in accessing accommodation, the Government should also publish an estimate of how many people in this group are homeless.

83.There is a lack of clarity surrounding what local authority support people with NRPF can access. DWP have told us that the £500 million hardship fund is not listed as a public fund. As noted by organisations who work with people with NRPF, however, some local authorities are not sure about what support they can provide, resulting in inconsistent levels of support across different areas. The Government should publish or at least clarify existing guidance for local authorities on what support they can provide for people with NRPF, including an explicit statement of whether measures such as the hardship fund are classed as public funds or not. The guidance should also state clearly whether local authorities are expected to use existing funding to support people with NRPF, or whether they can reclaim costs at a later date.

84.We welcome the Prime Minister’s clarification that people with NRPF who have lost income can access support through the CJRS and SEISS, the Government’s schemes for employed and self-employed people (respectively). We encourage the Government to make a renewed attempt to publicise this, so that people with NRPF who are facing loss of income are aware that they can access this vital support.

63 The full list of benefits defined as ‘public funds’ are listed on Gov.uk

66 Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 27 May 2020, HC 204, Q68

67 PQ 49575

68 The Children’s Society, ‘A Lifeline for All: Children and Families with No Recourse to Public Funds’, May 2020, p14. These figures are extracted from Migration Observatory data.

69 Q165

70 Ibid.

71 Q163 (Jessie Seal)

72 Oral evidence taken before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on 11 May 2020, HC 309, Q2

73 Q4, Ibid.

74 HC Deb, 23 March 2020, col 5 [Commons Chamber]

75 HC Deb, 25 March 2020, col 370 [Commons Chamber]

76 HC Deb, 28 April 2020, col 222 [Commons Chamber]

77 PQ 416 2

78 Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 27 May 2020, HC 204, Q68

79 Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee and Work and Pensions Committee, 28 April 2020

81 Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, ‘COVID-19 hardship fund 2020–21 - Local Authority Guidance’, March 2020

82 Q169

83 Q163

Published: 22 June 2020