This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 14 April 2022
In January 2020, we launched a wide-ranging inquiry to look at what more Government could do to reduce the number of children growing up in poverty across the UK. “No Recourse to Public Funds” (NRPF) is a condition on immigration status. Our investigation of how NRPF affects children is the second part of this important inquiry. With the help of parents and stakeholders, we have looked at the impact that a lack of access to social security is having on children in families with NRPF, and what more could be done to support them.
Not all families with NRPF are living in poverty. Most are working, some in well paid roles, but many have been unable to work at times both before, and during the pandemic and have experienced great hardship. All contributors to our inquiry recognised that a family with NRPF has no safety net when they fall on hard times, as many did during the pandemic, and this can lead to serious negative consequences for children. Many children experience homelessness or live in overcrowded, inappropriate housing, or have experienced food poverty. Parents do not receive support for their children from public funds, even where the children are British citizens, and do not have the same childcare entitlement as other families. Many stakeholders told us they want to see an end to the NRPF policy either in its entirety or at least for families with children, due to severe impacts on the mental and physical health of children.
Many families will have NRPF for ten years, while they are on the “10 year route” to Indefinite Leave, over half the length of a childhood. We recommend that parents with NRPF should be given access to public funds after a maximum of five years, to prevent children spending the majority of their childhood without the support provided to other children and more done to expedite decisions. We also recommend that, where the children are British citizens, their parents should receive Child Benefit for them.
During the pandemic, the Government temporarily extended eligibility for free school meals to some groups of children in families with NRPF. This was a lifeline to families in desperate need of help and we heard from many parents the positive difference this has had for both parents and children. We are pleased that during the course of our inquiry the Government listened to our feedback and that from stakeholders and parents, and have announced the permanent extension of free school meal eligibility for all children from families with NRPF. We welcome this development from the Government.
The Government does not collect or publish sufficient data on people with NRPF or the number of children, both British and non-British, impacted by this policy. The Government does not know how many families are living in the UK with NRPF or how many of those families are living in poverty. All of the organisations and local authorities that contributed to our inquiry want to see the Home Office improve its data on families with NRPF. Without data, it is difficult for charities and local authorities to plan and budget to support these families.
The numbers affected are likely to increase. Since the UK left the EU, EEA citizens entering the UK will be subject to the NRPF condition. Proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bills could see some groups of refugees also subject to the policy. We recommend that the Home Office collect and publish data on the number of people given Leave to Remain with NRPF as a condition as well as work to establish the number of British and non-British children impacted by the policy.
Some parents with NRPF can apply for a change of conditions to gain access to public funds if they are destitute, or at risk of becoming destitute. Thousands of families apply for this every year, and the great majority are successful. However, we heard from parents, charities and local authorities that these applications are unnecessarily complex and can leave parents waiting months for support they desperately need. Many more parents don’t know they can apply. Others are fearful to approach the Home Office, or only succeed in their applications with support from a specialist organisation. We were pleased that the Government seems engaged and enthusiastic about improving the process to apply for a change of conditions. We recommend that the Government provide funding so that charities and organisations can successfully support families with their change of condition applications; and ask that the Home Office introduces a clear process for applicants to challenge a refused change of conditions application.
Throughout our inquiry we heard that the Home Office were automatically moving parents from the 5 year route to settlement to the 10 year route if they had a successful change of conditions application. We are pleased that Ministers have told us the Home Office will no longer do this. However, families on the 5 year route who are still accessing public funds when their five years are up and need to apply for settlement will still be moved on to the 10 year route. We recommend instead that families on the 5 year route to settlement remain on the 5 year route, regardless of their access to public funds at the time of their application.
Under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, local authorities have a duty to safeguard the welfare of a child in need from an NRPF household. We heard that local authorities across the UK are supporting thousands of children in families with NRPF, costing millions of pounds to the taxpayer each year. Some local authorities support hundreds of families with NRPF to the cost of millions each year whereas other councils, with smaller NRPF populations may support a handful of parents and children costing tens of thousands. Despite recognition of the necessity of this support provided by local authorities from both the Government and the courts, councils are not reimbursed for these costs. Many organisations told us that local authorities need additional and targeted funding to support families with NRPF successfully.
Research from the GLA and LSE has found that allowing access to public funds for families with children who are currently subject to NRPF could lead to societal gains of up to £872 million. Since the purpose of the NRPF policy in part is to reduce burdens on the taxpayer, we recommend that the Government undertake an analysis of whether it would be more cost effective for families with NRPF to have earlier access to the welfare system and if so, the Government should bring forward proposals along these lines.