In speaking to Amendments 229ZA, 229ZC and 230C, which I will move when we reach them on the Marshalled List, I shall also address some of the amendments in the names of other noble Lords. Amendments 229A, 230A and 230B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, would amend the new support provisions for failed asylum seekers so that the Secretary of State “must” rather than “may” provide support if the conditions set out in the regulations are met. We believe that these changes are not necessary because I can confirm that it is our intention to provide support in accordance with the regulations.

Amendment 230 would create a right of appeal for failed asylum seekers against a refusal of support under the new Section 95A of the 1999 Act. It will have been decided that there is no genuine obstacle to them now leaving the UK. These are failed asylum seekers who the courts have agreed do not need our

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protection and have no lawful basis to remain here. Let us also remember that they have initially made a claim to the Home Office, and a case worker has examined the facts and reached a decision. At the moment, 41% of those who arrive in the UK are granted leave to remain or humanitarian protection. If they then disagree with that finding, they can appeal to the lower Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. If that appeal is unsuccessful, they can appeal to the Upper Tribunal. So we are talking about people who have gone through some system that entitles them to receive legal aid and advice where they meet the merits tests. There are also organisations such as Migrant Help that are there to offer advice through the system.

Home Office support for families will not end until 90 days. It also has to be remembered that in that initial consultation the recommendation was 28 days; I think it was 21 days for single people and 28 for families. But we have already said—again, I use this to underscore the fact that the Government recognise we are dealing with areas of great sensitivity; we are not setting our face against any change now or in the future in response to evidence we receive—the grace period went up from 28 days to 90 days. I appreciate that it has now been questioned whether 90 days is enough, and we are examining that.

What we mean by “genuine obstacle” will be set out in the regulations, which will be subject to parliamentary approval. It will be, for example, where medical evidence shows that the person is unfit to travel—in the case of the pregnant lady who was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it would be if it was within six weeks of her due date—or where they have applied for but not yet been issued with a travel document. This will involve a straightforward assessment of the facts, so we do not consider that another right of appeal on the end of the process that we have outlined is necessary.

I pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Asylum Support Appeals Project, but we say that its briefing for this debate supports this conclusion. Some 41% of appeals against refusal of support are allowed and others are admitted back to the Home Office for reconsideration, but in many cases this is because the evidence required to show that support was needed was supplied only at the appeal stage. This is evidenced by the cases sampled in the briefing paper. Few appeals currently hinge on whether there is a genuine obstacle preventing their departure from the UK. This is because the Home Office receives few applications for support on this basis. The allowed appeals relied upon usually involve a completely different matter: for example, whether the person is destitute or whether support is necessary to avoid a breach of their human rights.

Most asylum support appeals are against the refusal of Section 4 support to a failed asylum seeker who has lodged further submissions or intends to do so. The Bill will repeal Section 4 and provide Section 95 support for those with outstanding further submissions on protection grounds. A right of appeal against a decision that a person does not qualify for Section 95 support will remain.

Amendment 229ZD, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would remove an important provision that defines those seeking Section 95 support on the basis that they have made “further qualifying

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submissions” by reference to the Immigration Rules. This cross-reference to the rules is necessary to provide clarity as to what is meant by “further qualifying submissions” and how they fall to be considered after they are lodged. The rules set out the proper procedure to distinguish cases where the person is simply repeating matters that have been already been considered and rejected from those with genuine new grounds to lodge a fresh protection claim. The latter will be granted protection and will therefore be able to apply for mainstream benefits, or will be given a fresh opportunity to appeal against the refusal of their claim and be supported under Section 95 support.

Amendment 229ZE would remove the provision in Section 94 of the 1999 Act that enables a grace period to be provided before a person ceases to be eligible for Section 95 support. The grace period starts when the person is notified of the decision on their protection claim or when any appeal is finally disposed of. Regulations prescribe how long the grace period will last but cannot alter the actual day on which the protection claim or appeal is determined.

Amendment 230ZB would mean that failed asylum seekers supported under new Section 95A of the 1999 Act could be supported only in the form of cash rather than cash or vouchers, as well as with accommodation. The legislation needs to be flexible enough to provide support in different ways to deal with particular circumstances. Section 95 already allows support to be provided through cash or vouchers and it is appropriate that new Section 95A should do the same. We expect that failed asylum seekers who move on to new Section 95A will continue to be supported as they were under Section 95. This will generally be by way of accommodation and cash.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: Before the noble Lord moves on, when he says that they will be supported in the same way, does he mean that it will be with the same level of cash?

Lord Bates: The short answer to that is yes.

Amendment 233 would require the Secretary of State to provide failed asylum seekers with a caseworker, a named contact and legal advice. It would also require the appointment of an independent person to report on the financial assistance available to failed asylum seekers who leave voluntarily, and on contact with welfare organisations in the country of return.

I agree as to the importance of these issues but not as to the need for this amendment. We provide generous financial assistance to incentivise returns and assist with reintegration in the country of origin. This can be up to £2,000 per person for families and up to £1,500 in support for a single person, in addition to removal expenses and their travel and transport costs such as flights. We also provide help with travel arrangements and resettlement needs. Some 143 families comprising 435 people and 469 single failed asylum seekers left under the assisted voluntary return scheme from 1 April to 31 December 2015, which suggests that the arrangements are working.

I will address some of the specific questions raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about the no right of appeal. I made the point that the wider facts

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will have been contested in the earlier appeals and examined by the Home Office caseworker, and that therefore a genuine obstacle would be easy to understand —in other words, that there is medical evidence that the person is not fit to travel or that they do not have the necessary travel documents to do so.

Lord Rosser: I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that it is not quite as straightforward as just saying that there will be medical evidence; there might be a view on what weight should be attached to that medical evidence and whether it meets the criteria. It cannot all be effectively a tick-box exercise, although I almost get the impression it is being portrayed as such.

6.15 pm

Lord Bates: It is certainly not a tick-box exercise. Of course, a statement that someone is medically unfit and unable to travel is a fact that can be proved by a medical practitioner and which can be evidenced. The fact that the documents are not in place for travel can be evidenced by the absence of those documents; therefore we contest that the key facts can be established as to whether there is a genuine obstacle to the person leaving, without necessarily reopening the whole case for review.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was generous enough again to recognise in connection with the Azure card, on which he has faithfully spoken over many years in this place, that we have made some improvements. I will refer back the comment on the specific chain he mentioned, the easyFoodstore—or is it the easyJet store?—which has food for low prices, because that ought to be considered. The list is not an exhaustive one: it can be changed and added to, provided that the companies themselves are willing to join the system. I will certain explore that further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked whether the 90-day grace period would be extended if there is a change of circumstances. The person must genuinely ensure that there is an obstacle to return. An example might be if they did not receive timely notice of the asylum refusal or a failed appeal. The 90-day grace period for families will enable us to work effectively with families and local authorities to encourage and enable returns. Assisted voluntary return for families is a scheme for families comprising a maximum of two adult parents and at least one child under the age of 18. Families who leave the UK under this scheme can qualify for up to £2,000 per family member. A key difference between that scheme and the previous one— the test that was done under Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act—is that that was a dry, correspondence-based exercise, whereas with family returns we are talking about a family returns engagement officer, who works with them to ensure that provision is in place for them and their family both while they are in the UK and in the country to which they will return to.

On the regulations and whether they will be affirmative, we are very conscious as to what the committee has said, and of course we always tend to show great deference to that committee. However, I will have to come back on Report to confirm how we will deal with this. It simply requires a process we need to go

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through as regards consulting other people with interests across government to get approval or not for that type of thing. I feel as though I am letting my poker face go again—I have never played poker, and now I am probably figuring out why. Noble Lords have guessed it. In any case, we take the committee seriously and will come back with an amendment to—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: I will not start to play poker with the Minister. Will there be more details about the contents of the regulations before Report?

Lord Bates: More details will come out. We are working very closely with the local authorities and the Department for Education on what the guidance should be on this. We have to get that joined-up system there to ensure protection, particularly for the families, and work out how it will work. That process is ongoing. As set out in my letter of 21 January and in the substantial document, the review is current. I realise that we had a significant debate on the level of asylum support on 27 October. On page 2, paragraph 6 states:

“As Lord Bates confirmed in the House of Lords on 27 October 2015, we continue to keep the support rate under review”.

We have engaged with a number of stakeholders, including Still Human Still Here, Refugee Action, the Children’s Society and Student Action for Refugees and we will study the results carefully. The review should report in March or April and will provide detailed reasons for the conclusion when it comes through.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what the reduction in the number of migrants will be. An impact statement is attached, where the noble Lord will see that we anticipate that an estimated 20% of the failed cohort will return. That is the assumption we have used in the impact assessment. It is not an easy estimate to make, however, for the reasons the noble Lord gave. It cannot be judged on just this one measure but needs to be judged by the wider measures in the Bill, which will make it more difficult for people to rent accommodation, drive or gain employment if they have no right to be here. It is part of the package but that is the assumption.

I come to discontinuation of support. If there is a genuine obstacle, support will continue. If a pregnant woman is not due to give birth within six weeks of the expiry point of the 90-day grace period, she will generally be fit to fly and therefore not eligible for new Section 95A support. If that were not the case, there would be medical grounds to cite a genuine obstacle to being able to travel.

Lord Rosser: I cited what I understand to be the figures from the family returns process. A significant number of the families involved are not dealt with within the three-month period. I suppose I am asking whether the Government agree with those figures, which I understand came from a government analysis. If it is accepted that, under that process, a significant number of families cannot with the best will in the world complete the process within three months, what happens under the 90-day period if there are likewise families with Section 95 support who cannot complete the process for leaving within the 90 days? Or is the Government’s argument that everybody should finish

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the process within 90 days and any reference to what is happening under the family returns process is somehow not relevant?

Lord Bates: That is, of course, how it is at the moment, but we will bring forward in the regulations means by which we believe we can improve the efficiency of that process and reduce a lot of the complexity in the system, which everyone wants to see removed. That will, in turn, speed up the process so that the vast majority of claims fall well within the 90-day period. That is our intention but it needs to be kept under review so that it is the case.

Lord Rosser: We hope that is achieved and that we get a quicker process. At the moment, however, unless what I am saying about the family returns process is wrong, there is evidence that it will not be possible to complete the process for a significant number of families within 90 days. All I am asking is: if that is the case —and there is no suggestion that the families themselves have contributed to the fact that the process has not been completed in time—will that Section 95 support be continued beyond the 90 days?

Lord Bates: Every case will be different but in a normal case, if someone cannot leave within 90 days, there is probably a genuine obstacle to their doing so. They may not be well enough or they may not have travel documents, in which case they would come into the category of having a genuine obstacle and, therefore, support could continue under new Section 95A.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: If a pregnant lady is to be deported within six weeks of the birth, and if flights can be arranged, what arrangements will be made in her destination? She will need medical attention. Might voluntary organisations be able to help? What arrangements can be made to ensure that she is well cared for on arrival?

Lord Bates: I am happy to set that out in a little more detail. I think it would be helpful to say how we envisage that working. The plan is for the family engagement officer—who is a key figure in this, working with the family to manage their return—to have cognisance of their circumstances not only while here but when they return, so that will be taken into account and will be something that we look at. I will write more on that; I am happy to do so.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, while we are on this subject, the noble Lord, in response to my Amendment 233, talked about the current process. The amendment was tabled after discussion with the Red Cross in particular and other organisations that commented on the need for the items set out in the amendment, namely,

“a caseworker … a named point of contact … and … legal advice”.

The part of the amendment dealing with a review refers to,

“the level of financial support provided to failed asylum seekers when they leave the United Kingdom, and … the level of contact with organisations in the country of return necessary for the welfare of the failed asylum seekers”,

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which was very much the point my noble friend was making. The Minister has just described a caseworker and named person. I am not clear whether this is intended to be a change from the current process or whether his notes are defending the current process. If it is the latter, the comments I received which led to this amendment indicate that the current process, which the Minister described, is not working.

While I am on my feet, I am afraid I must take the Minister back to the Azure card. He said that, generally, support would be in the form of accommodation and cash. What are the exceptions to that?

Lord Bates: First, I am a huge admirer of the work of the Red Cross and pay tribute to all that it does in this area. The noble Baroness referred to my charitable endeavours over the recess. Last year, I raised £90,000 for projects for the International Red Cross in China. My response to the point about the Red Cross study is that we are engaging with it. Home Office officials are in contact with the Red Cross and we are working through its recommendations, which I have read. There is some question—which we need to understand better—about the cohort. I think that the Red Cross looked at some 60 case studies. The majority—all but five or six, I think—were failed asylum seekers, but there was not really sufficient explanation of why they had failed. Suffice to say that we take this very seriously. We want to engage with organisations such as the Red Cross so that we move forward sensitively.

I have said that I will write on the point about the Azure card and perhaps I could include the exceptions. With that, I hope that noble Lords will accept my explanation and withdraw their opposition to the clause standing part.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, perhaps I could ask one question. A number of noble Lords have said that when this sort of scheme was tried before, where, basically, failed asylum seekers were forced into destitution, not only were there fewer returns than in the control group but more people absconded and disappeared than in the control group. I understand the Minister’s arguments about saving government money for more deserving cases and that if somebody has exhausted the asylum appeals process you cannot keep giving them resources, but surely the most important thing is to ensure that the people who should not be in this country are no longer in this country. When this was tried before, the evidence was that starving failed asylum seekers into leaving the country is counter- productive. The Minister has not answered that question.

Lord Bates: That is one of the reasons why, in the preceding group, we talked about the policy of deport first, appeal later. If people are appealing from outside the country, there is less of a risk that they will abscond. We should also note, when comparing this with the 2002 Act, the different way in which we now engage families in this situation—through caseworkers, through Migrant Help and by working with them to manage their return to the United Kingdom. There is also a very generous grant available to them—up to £2,000 per person in addition to travel costs—when they agree to do so. So judged in the round, within the wider package of things that we are trying to do in

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the Immigration Bill, we can actually see that that figure will improve. But I am sure that the noble Lord will hold us to account when those figures are published each year to see how we are doing.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister will recall that I put five questions to him. Although he has in his ministerial reply touched tangentially on some of those points, I wonder whether he would be good enough to confirm that he will write to me with a response to the particular points I made.

Lord Bates: I apologise if I did not address those questions specifically head-on. Of course, I am blessed with having a team of officials behind me who capture the gaps in my response. We have a track record, I think, of following up in some detail to plug those gaps so that Members have the information that they need to scrutinise the legislation before the House.

Clause 37 agreed.

Amendment 228

Moved by Baroness Lister of Burtersett

228: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—

“Asylum support move on period

Persons in receipt of asylum support will cease to receive such support 40 days after receiving a Biometric Residence Permit following the granting of—

(a) refugee status;

(b) humanitarian protection status;

(c) discretionary leave status;

(d) indefinite leave to remain; or

(e) limited leave to remain for 30 months.”

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 228 and I am grateful to those noble Lords who have added their name to it. This concerns what is commonly called the “moving on” or “grace” period, during which an asylum seeker granted status continues to receive asylum support but after which it is expected that they will have sorted out mainstream financial support, employment and accommodation. The current period is only 28 days. The amendment would increase this to 40 days.

As I said when we discussed the previous group, I applaud the Home Office for listening to the concerns expressed about the grace period proposed in the consultation on asylum support for failed asylum seekers, but I was disappointed that the same document stated:

“There are no plans to change the grace period arrangements for those granted asylum or other status here”.

I hope that we might be able to persuade the Minister to look again at this also, particularly given that the grace period for failed asylum seekers will now be 90 days.

I was prompted to table the amendment as a result of reading the recent Work and Pensions Committee report Benefit Delivery. The report referred to the research evidence suggesting that,

“28 days is insufficient time for refugees to make the transition from Home Office support in many cases”.

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This includes the DWP’s own research which,

“showed it takes on average 32 days from receipt of claim to first payment for a claimant with a National Insurance number and 35 days for a claimant without”.

The Committee asked why only 28 days is allowed, when it is clear from the research that,

“it is in many cases insufficient”.

It recommended that,

“the DWP conduct an immediate investigation into the ‘move-on’ period and work with the Home Office to amend the length of time if necessary”.

I realise that this amendment goes further, but I do not believe further investigation is necessary, given the evidence that already exists, including from the British Red Cross, as cited by the Work and Pensions Committee—and I am grateful to the BRC for its help with the amendment—and also an earlier report by Freedom from Torture.

It was in fact that report, on the poverty barrier faced by survivors of torture, that first alerted me to this issue. I tried in vain to find out who had responsibility for this matter in DWP and, to my shame, when I did not find out I let it go. But the publication of the Work and Pensions Committee report, following the recent research report from the British Red Cross, convinced me that we must use the opportunity provided by this Bill to address what is a very real and unnecessary injustice.

The Red Cross research identified 23 factors at play affecting the speed with which refugees are able to move on to mainstream support. For some people, five to 10 of these factors could be holding up progress. The research documents the complexities of the transition period, involving multiple stakeholders and the issuing and management of multiple documents. During a one-month data collection process, the study found that 14 out of 101 people helped by the BRC refugee support service in Birmingham were in the moving-on period, and two out of 55 people in Plymouth. All 14 participants in Birmingham were destitute, with neither financial support nor adequate accommodation. All 11 for whom it had sufficient information had been without support for more than 15 days, five for 15 to 35 days, and three for more than 75 days. In Plymouth, both had been without support for between 15 and 35 days.

BRC has provided me with a case study that was not part of the research. Hagos is a 19 year-old from Eritrea living in Stoke on Trent. He was granted status on 16 October and claimed jobseeker’s allowance on 29 October. In case anyone is wondering why there was a delay in claiming, let me remind noble Lords that claiming benefits can sometimes be difficult for people at the best of times. In his oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, Fabio Apollonio of the BRC explained:

“It is clear to us that at a particular stage when a person is just coming out of a trauma, perhaps, they are thinking of what to do next and they are bombarded with a lot of things to do and very often they do not even start the process until very late. It is very difficult to engage with a benefit agency at that stage unless you are prepared and you have been receiving advice from someone who can explain to you clearly what you should do without delay”.

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Anyway, back to Hagos. His asylum support was terminated on 19 November. His first JSA payment was not made until 7 January—held up in part because of incorrect advice given by Jobcentre Plus staff—so this young man, still in his teens, experienced destitution for a period of 50 days.

Another example provided in the West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network’s submission to the Work and Pensions Committee was of a woman with severe mental health problems, with two children, who was told that her claim for benefits could not be processed until two days before her asylum support was due to end. It then took over a month for the first payment to be made. The family were left in temporary accommodation without any subsistence support for a number of weeks and had to rely on food parcels and hardship payments from a member organisation of the network. As the network points out, many new refugees lack the safety net of savings or social networks able to support them through this difficult period.

The researchers concluded that:

“Our findings show that moving from asylum support to mainstream benefits and employment is a real ordeal for new refugees—and usually takes much longer than the … ‘grace period’ given by the government”.

I do not believe this is hyperbole, and even though it is a small study, it is consistent with the other available evidence.

In particular, the psychological impact of the ordeal that new refugees face is documented by the Freedom from Torture report that I mentioned. It observes that:

“The relief of gaining security of legal status can dissipate fairly quickly as the reality becomes apparent, while at the same time the survivor may be particularly vulnerable psychologically, as the full impact of torture and the loss of their former life may begin to be fully felt at this time of transition”.

Clinicians interviewed for the research said that it was at this time of transition and great psychological vulnerability that clients were most likely to experience destitution. They commentated on the devastating impact that this could have as, in their experience, when survivors of torture are effectively made destitute, it can lead to a deterioration in their mental health and/or to an increased risk of suicide. It can also have a long-term impact on their ability to recover from their past trauma, even after they are no longer in destitute circumstances. As one clinician put it:

“There’s nothing worse for our clients than thinking all your problems have ended because you get ‘status’ and then becoming homeless”.

If we stop and think how we would feel in that situation, it is all too understandable.

I do not believe that this is what anyone in the Government wants. It is a policy of neglect and bureaucratic inertia rather than of deliberate intent, but it is no less cruel for that. A number of practical reforms that could help are detailed both in the BRC report and in evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee—for instance, to start the clock of the grace period ticking only once a refugee has received key documents such as an NI number. But this problem has been going on for years. Indeed, the Home Affairs Committee recommended in 2013 that,

“asylum support should not be discontinued until the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that the recipient is receiving mainstream benefits”.

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I am afraid that I do not have confidence in the statutory agencies to ensure that measures are implemented effectively without legislative change. Of course, the sooner a refugee can move from asylum support to mainstream support, the better, but in order to ensure that they do not drop into a horrible limbo in between, the time has come to extend the period to 40 days as a basic safeguard against destitution.

I am sure that the Minister is not comfortable with this situation. Therefore, would it be possible to arrange a meeting involving representatives of the Home Office and the DWP together with interested Peers and representatives of key organisations supporting refugees through the moving-on period to look at what might be possible before Report? I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, put the case eloquently and persuasively. She and I attended a briefing with the British Red Cross and she then tabled the amendment. I added my name as a signatory because it puts, as she said, a real and unnecessary injustice right. It is a basic safeguard against enforced destitution.

The Minister needs no convincing about the merits of the British Red Cross. He has not only raised significant sums for the organisation in a voluntary capacity but I know that he has huge admiration for the work that it does. Representatives told us in the briefing that we had with them that they had helped to reunite 300 refugee families last year in the UK. They also illustrated from their own experience that destitution in the asylum system is a worsening and deepening problem. They supported 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were destitute in 2015, compared with 7,700 in 2014, which is an increase of some 15%. That included people granted refugee status but not given enough time to transition to mainstream benefits in the way that the noble Baroness just described.

Nearly 44% of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the Red Cross last year were from Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, all of which are among the world’s top refugee-producing countries. Although I agree with what the Minister said earlier about people seeking better lives from countries such as Albania—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his intervention—we must never lose sight of some of the hell-holes from which people are coming.

When the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I were at Yarl’s Wood today, two men had just arrived off the back of lorries from Iran. Another had arrived from Mosul in Iraq. The situations they had come from were such that any noble Lord in the Chamber tonight would have attempted to escape from too. We have to be clear that these are not economic migrants or people who are just coming for a better life. Some of them have come from the most perilous and appalling situations.

If the Bill is left unaltered, it could plunge thousands more people in those kinds of situations into poverty, including families who are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own, for example due to a lack of identification documents to provide their nationality or because they have no viable or secure place to return to.

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6.45 pm

Research conducted by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that, among asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day. Over 60% had no fixed accommodation and were therefore reliant on informal networks, relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place even to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the past year.

In the previous group of amendments, I made a number of points about enforced hardship and the calamitous consequences of that on individuals as well as on society. I do not need to repeat all of those. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I, too, have seen case studies from the Red Cross. She cited the particular example of Hagos, a 19 year-old, who spent 50 days in destitution. There were three other case studies I looked at. I will not go into the details other than to cite the numbers of days of destitution. One was a 27 year-old from Sudan who had been destitute for 38 days. In the third study, another young man from Sudan had been 19 days in destitution. In the fourth study, a teenager of 19 years of age from Ethiopia spent 21 days in destitution.

All of us with children or grandchildren can imagine our own youngsters in that kind of situation. We would not want it for them and we should not want it for these young people. I know that the Minister, in his heart, would not want it either. This is a just and reasonable amendment, and I hope that the Minister will take seriously the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in asking for continued discussions around this question between now and Report.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I add my warm support to my noble friend in moving this amendment. For any of us who have been exposed to the realities of the situation, it is impossible to forget the mental turmoil that is so often present in the case of the person going through the process. The minds of those who have suffered torture are already in a pretty twisted and confused state. Just trying to cope with the procedures is physically and mentally exhausting. That is aggravated, frankly, because sometimes they have been through all the injustice of ill-prepared cases against them by the Home Office, which were subsequently totally dismissed as unacceptable, allowing the person to acquire asylum status. All this adds to the psychological pressure.

The other thing that strikes me—both the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend referred to this—is the amount of arbitrariness in this process. Some come up against wonderful people in the community. I can think of a case not very far from where the Minister lives where there was a wonderful amount of support forthcoming for the couple concerned, and they roped me in on it, but all the time I was thinking, “But what about all those who do not have this support?”. It was bad enough for them.

Let us consider the arbitrariness that people encounter at the appeal stage in terms of the procedures in court. I was present for this couple’s case, and indeed I was called as a witness. The judge was simply incompetent, but fortunately for this couple, they had a superbly

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good lawyer to present their case. She was able to shred the case brought by the judge almost within minutes. What was again constantly in my mind was the fact that the couple were fortunate to have the support of a wonderful family and an excellent lawyer, someone who was commended by her own profession for her work, but what about all the others? This indicates that we need to look closely at what is realistically possible.

To be fair, I should add that when I became involved in this case, I was given a lot of helpful support by the Home Office. It was obvious that some people there were unhappy about the situation and they were trying to help. But only a minority of cases have the good fortune of the kind intervention of others. We cannot take the business of fairness lightly and we must be able to think ourselves into the shoes of the people going through this process—what they have been through, what state their minds are in and how capable they are of coping with what is required of them during the period of transition. I hope that the Minister, who I know is an extremely fair-minded man, will listen carefully to the plea of my noble friend and resolve this.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, our Amendment 229 also addresses the issue of people who have been granted refugee status, humanitarian protection and various forms of leave to remain accessing mainstream benefits. I am sure that being able to work, and as a secondary to that being able to access mainstream benefits and accommodation, is what people in this situation want. They do not want to be supported. But delays in the Home Office in issuing biometric residence permits and delays at the DWP in issuing national insurance numbers so that people can get identity documents and thus establish a claim to benefits mean that the system is not working as it should.

Our amendment would not make as many changes as its length might suggest. The relevant addition to the definition of when,

“a claim for asylum is determined”,

are the lines,

“and the claimant or dependants of the claimant do not appear to the Secretary of State to be destitute”.

In other words, adding that in as another condition to be met, as it were. I can understand that it must be much easier to have an automatic time trigger for these things, but we have heard throughout the debate on this Bill how matters are considered on a case-by-case basis, and it seems that this is another occasion when that consideration should be applied.

Lord Bates: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for moving her amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. In the interests of time, perhaps I may first draw the attention of the Committee to my letter of 21 January and in particular to the accompanying document, Reforming Support for Migrants Without Immigration Status:The New System Contained in Schedules 8 and 9 to the Immigration Bill, and specifically to pages 10 to 12 which deal with the handover situation of people on support from the Home Office and moving them on to a local authority, and how that system can be improved.

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The noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I respect enormously for his humanitarian instincts, as I do the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the British Red Cross report. It was published on 13 January, I think, which is fairly recent in terms of government decision-making. We are engaging with the charity and we will have more to say on the report in due course.

At the heart of what the noble Baroness wants is whether we will agree to a meeting to look specifically at this issue. The next group of amendments is a significant one about children leaving care. I was going to suggest that we should have a meeting on that issue, which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will probably find very helpful. I am happy to incorporate this specific point into that wider meeting, given that we already have five meetings coming up before Report. If that is helpful to her, I shall restrict my remarks to drawing attention to the document I have just mentioned and agreeing to combine this issue with those to be addressed in the meeting as a result of the next group of amendments.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so helpfully and the noble Lord for that positive response. I am happy for this to be taken as part of another meeting, although I hope that we will be able to include representatives of the British Red Cross and the Refugee Council since they both work with people who are in the moving-on period. I think that I referred to an earlier British Red Cross report rather than the one which has just been produced. I know that there are two reports which are relevant to our discussions so it is possible that I have muddled them up, but I was referring to a different report from that cited by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Anyway, that does not matter because the important thing is that we should sit down and talk about this. As I have said, I do not think that there is really any difference between us, but this has been going on for too long. I do not know what the answer is. It may be a longer time limit or it might be something else. If we can sit around a table, that would be very helpful.

Lord Bates: I should make one specific point that I need to put on to the record. It is not just a case of extending the time period, it is also about making sure that people apply for these benefits promptly. One of the figures cited in the 2014 British Red Cross report showed that of its sample of 16 individuals, only three had applied for welfare benefits within the first three weeks of being granted status. Part of the issue is getting people to apply earlier.

Lord Judd: The Minister has just put his finger on a good example of the difficulty here. He has said that it is important that people should apply promptly, but sometimes their mental condition and the state of confusion they are in makes that a totally unrealistic proposition unless there are families or friends who can take them through the whole process, as was the case with the couple I cited as an example earlier. People have to work hard on it. These are exactly the sort of points which should be taken up in the discussion that I am glad to hear the Minister is suggesting.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My noble friend has taken the words right out of my mouth. As I said in moving the amendment, it is easy to say that people should apply earlier. However, they are in what is still a strange country to them and are accessing a strange system. Even for people who are brought up here it can be difficult to claim benefits. If these people do not have the support of an agency like the British Red Cross or the Refugee Council, is it surprising that there is a delay? I know that it is not what the noble Lord is doing, but it does sound a bit like blaming the victim to say, “If only they would apply earlier”. I know that it is not what he meant.

7 pm

Lord Bates: I cannot let that stand. I certainly would not be guilty of doing that. I am simply saying that when there are delays in the system we need to look at all the parties to explore why. The one fact I presented was that only three out of 16 applied within the first three weeks. That could contribute to the need to examine why, and what extra help they need. I certainly was not blaming the victims. It is not about simply adding days on in the end and finding that even that is not enough, as we were talking previously about the grace period going up from 28 to 90 days. We need to look at the whole system so that people get the care they need when they need it and the system works effectively. That is what we are about.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: I am grateful for that. As I said I did not really believe that that was what the noble Lord meant. It might have sounded like it, so I am glad he has made it clear.

The Work and Pensions Committee said that 28 days is really very little time. It may be that the answer is not another fixed time limit, but I absolutely accept that we need to look at all the different aspects—the DWP, the Home Office and how people engage with them. On the basis that the Minister has very kindly offered to extend the meeting he was offering anyway, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 228 withdrawn.

Amendment 229 not moved.

Schedule 8: Support for certain categories of migrant

Amendments 229ZA to 229ZC

Moved by Lord Bates

229ZA: Schedule 8, page 114, line 5, at end insert—

“( ) in section 134 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, omit subsection (5);”

229ZB: Schedule 8, page 114, line 7, after “or”” insert “and “persons temporarily admitted and””

229ZC: Schedule 8, page 114, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 2014, omit paragraph (a)”

Amendments 229ZA to 229ZC agreed.

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Amendments 229ZD and 229ZE not moved.

Amendment 229A not moved.

Amendment 230 not moved.

Amendment 230ZA

Moved by Lord Bates

230ZA: Schedule 8, page 117, line 33, leave out from “a” to end of line 36 and insert “condition imposed under Schedule 7 to the Immigration Act 2016 (immigration bail);”

Amendment 230ZA agreed.

Amendment 230ZB not moved.

Amendments 230A and 230B not moved.

Amendment 230C

Moved by Lord Bates

230C: Schedule 8, page 121, line 31, at end insert—

“In Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 2014 (excluded residential tenancy agreements), in paragraph 8 (accommodation provided by virtue of immigration provisions)—

(a) in paragraph (b) after “95” insert “or 95A”, and

(b) in paragraph (c) after “98” insert “or 98A”.”

Amendment 230C agreed.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.

Clause 38: Availability of local authority support

Amendment 230D

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

230D: Clause 38, page 40, line 18, at end insert “subject to subsection (2).

(2) This section and Schedule 9 shall not have effect in respect of any former relevant child if a local authority by whom he or she was looked after failed to ensure that he or she was advised and assisted in connection with—

(a) an application for him or her to be registered as a British citizen in circumstances where he or she was either entitled to be registered as a British citizen or otherwise entitled to apply to be registered;

(b) an application for him or her to be granted indefinite leave to remain in circumstances where he or she satisfied requirements under the immigration rules for a grant of indefinite leave to remain; or

(c) an application for him or her to be granted limited leave to remain in circumstances where he or she satisfied requirements under the immigration rules for a grant of limited leave to remain.

(3) In this section—

“former relevant child” has the meaning described in section 23C of the Children Act 1989 (continuing functions in respect of former relevant children), and

“immigration rules” means the rules as laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control).”

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as the Minister said in his reply to the previous group of amendments, we will now have our attention focused on a whole group on the plight of children primarily, and how this legislation will affect them. It is slightly mind-boggling to find your amendment grouped with 26 government amendments, let alone 10 other amendments, and I will leave others to deal with those.

Earlier, I referred to a report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday and had its origins in a story in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. I should like to return to that for a moment. The report states:

“Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, said …‘It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children’” ,

who are unaccompanied and who had disappeared in Europe. He continued:

“‘Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with’”.

The report continued:

“Of more than a million migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe last year, Europol estimates that 27 per cent of them are children … ‘Not all those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be, Mr Donald told The Observer, adding that the 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate’”.

If thousands of child migrants have vanished in Europe, it is clearly not an issue about which we can be complacent. As we did with the human trafficking and modern-day slavery legislation, we must provide flagship legislation which other nations can emulate. Our practice here must be beyond reproach and we certainly must do all we can to safeguard children from falling into the hands of people who would exploit them.

One issue to which we have given relatively little attention in the course of our proceedings is that regarding children born in the UK or living in the UK from an early age without citizenship or leave to remain. Amendment 230D has a particular effect in relation to children in the care of a local authority. However there are many other children in similar circumstances in the UK, albeit not in care. The amendment would prevent in defined circumstances the application of Schedule 9 which, in various respects, removes obligations on local authorities to provide leaving care support to children without either British citizenship or leave to remain in the UK, including in relation to accessing higher education and other education and training. The circumstances in which it would prevent the effect of Schedule 9 is where the local authority has failed to support the child in its care to register as a British citizen, or obtain the leave to remain to which the child is or was entitled. Why should a local authority benefit effectively from reduced obligations in circumstances which have come about only because of the authority’s failure to adequately assist the child?

The project for the registration of children as British citizens—PRCBC, which I shall simply refer to, if I may, as the project—is supported by Amnesty International UK which drew this issue to my attention, for which I am grateful. It says that among the young people who stand to lose leaving care support under

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Clause 38 are young people who come to the UK at a very young age, and indeed some who were even born in this country.

I asked for examples so that I could illustrate the problem. They include people like Henry who was three years old when he was brought to the UK. He is now 15 and has been under the care of his local authority and in foster care since his grandmother’s death when he was seven. Henry is one of the luckier of these children. He has no leave to remain. However, he was referred to the project and it has been able to assist him in connection with his entitlement to register as a British citizen.

There are an estimated 120,000 children in the UK subject to immigration control and without leave to remain, more than half of whom were born in this country. Many of them are entitled to British citizenship under various provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981. However, many of them do not know and there is nobody to tell them of their entitlement. Indeed, in many cases, nobody makes the effort to find out that the child does not have citizenship or leave to remain in the UK until he or she turns 18 and seeks access to university or employment.

Another example is a young man called James whom the project has been able to assist. He was born in the United Kingdom. He has been in care since the age of one. His social worker attended one of the project’s free training sessions and referred his case. He, too, has no lawful status in the UK but is entitled to register as a British citizen.

Arising from these cases in the illustrations I have given, I have some questions for the Minister. Has he any assessment of the number of children—children without status but who are either entitled to register as a British citizen or who may be able to apply for registration at the discretion of the Secretary of State—who will be affected by Clause 38? Can he confirm, as both the project and Amnesty point out, that these children will also be adversely affected by the rest of a generally hostile environment, including the provisions we have discussed today concerning the right to rent and unlawful working, and issues we have discussed on previous sitting days? How many children in local authority care will fall into these categories? What steps do local authorities take to establish the immigration status of children in their care and then keep that under review? Do they just disappear into the ether? What assistance does the Home Office provide them to ensure they understand the entitlements of these children?

Many of the children face difficulties accessing legal advice or paying the fee required for them to register their citizenship. I should be grateful if the Minister, when he replies, can confirm that there is no legal aid for this and that the fee is currently some £749, of which £526 is simply profit to the Home Office. I understand that it is intended for the fee to go up to £936—a rise of 25%. Is that correct?

Although the focus of the project is assisting children to access their entitlement to British citizenship, it also sees cases where a child may alternatively be eligible for leave to remain. These children are young people; they are not culpable for their lack of status. Indeed, in some instances that arises due to historical wrongs

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in our citizenship laws, which Governments have taken some important steps to address, for instance, concerning illegitimate children. I commend that, but given that local authorities are in many cases failing to identify a child’s lack of status in the UK, or failing to take effective action to address it, it is particularly galling that Clause 38 would effectively reward the local authority for its failure. A child who would have remained entitled to ongoing support from the local authority on leaving care, had the authority taken effective action to attain status for the child, will lose that entitlement because of the failure to act.

As Amnesty made clear in oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, these children are among those who will suffer from the hostile environment being established, particularly as they approach and reach their majority. Surely that cannot be right. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps the Government will take to ensure that that is not the result. Perhaps it is an example of the law of unintended consequences, but I hope that it is something that the noble Lord will take seriously and see whether it is something that we can rectify, if not today then between now and Report. I beg to move.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend’s Amendment 230D and to speak to my Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in this group. I strongly support my noble friend in what he asks. I am well aware that local authorities too often do not give timely advice and support regarding making applications for leave to remain for young people in their care. I have frequently heard that this is the case. What my noble friend asks for is very helpful and I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic response. Indeed, I am grateful that the Minister has pre-empted this grouping by saying that we will meet to discuss these very important and sensitive issues. I am grateful to him for that.

I will endeavour to be as brief as possible. My amendments would undo those elements of Schedule 9 that would mean that children in the immigration system would be treated differently from other children in the care system. These children would not get the support in leaving care that children outside of the immigration system receive. It would also mean that the Government would fund the care-leaving support for young people in the immigration system.

The key message I make to your Lordships is that these are vulnerable 18 year-olds. We need to treat these young people with humanity. They are somebody’s child, somebody’s grandchild. They are not so different from your Lordships’ grandchildren. They are recognised to be extremely vulnerable because of their histories. Care leavers get support from the state. The care leaving Act allows young people to have a personal adviser to the age of 21 or to the age of 25 if they are in education or training. The personal adviser can help them with things such as securing housing, and advise them on getting into education and training. These are important measures that support these vulnerable young people.

Recently, the Government introduced the staying put arrangements for young people leaving care. This has been most welcome and very popular. Half of

3 Feb 2016 : Column 1848

children or young people leaving care take up this offer. It allows them to remain with their foster carers to the age of 21, where they and their foster carers agree. It gives these young people the continuity of care that they so much need. It was accepted in the context of the fact that most young people nowadays leave home on average at the age of 24. These vulnerable young people need that support at least until the age of 21.

Why should we be giving all these young people this kind of support? The risk is that they may enter criminality if they are not properly supported. Their mental health may seriously deteriorate. They may be exploited, perhaps sexually. For the young people we are talking about, I think for instance of a Kosovan Albanian young man, the son of a teacher, whom I worked with many years ago when there were real issues of concern in the Balkans. He was a charming young man, well dressed and courteous to the young women he shared his hostel with. He had every good potential in the world, but I could also see him getting hooked up with some Albanian mafia group and dropping off into that environment if he was not given that proper support when he turned 18.

7.15 pm

I think also of an Afghan young woman who I saw on many occasions. She spoke a very select dialect of Pashto; the translator was at the other end of London. It was so hard for her to communicate. She was fostered for a time in a family with boys. There were very strict rules in her culture about not being brought up with boys, apart from her brothers. It was very difficult for her. I remember arriving one day and seeing her in tears because her family town was being shelled and she had no way of communicating with her family. Vulnerable young people such as these have gone through a lot of trauma and are in a very difficult situation. They do not have family in this country to support them. They really need our help as they turn 18.

Many of these young people will not return at the age of 18. Research by the Children’s Commissioner into young people leaving care with this sort of status in a local authority found that for 56% of them there was no prospect of the Home Office returning them to their home countries soon. They are stuck here and they need help because of that.

As I said, the key message that I try to communicate to your Lordships is that these are vulnerable young people. They have been through trauma of various kinds. They need the same support as other young people in this country who have experienced familial abuse. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. How do the Government’s new proposals limiting support to care leavers align with their stated commitment to care leavers in recognition of their additional vulnerability when transitioning into adulthood? Secondly, will the Minister outline what would happen if a care leaver who had exhausted their appeal rights needed additional support, for example to remain in a foster placement because of concerns that they may self-harm? Would the local authority have the power to support this vulnerable young person in those circumstances? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have my name to a number of the noble Earl’s amendments. We have all received a considerable amount of briefing material. He just referred to the work of the Children’s Commissioner. I will use that as the basis for questions—not even that: I will simply read out some of the key questions that it is said need answering. There will be a certain amount of overlap with the noble Earl.

Will the statutory guidance on transition be revised as a result of changes made in the Bill? The noble Earl referred to that. We are all concerned about young people missing from care. The Children’s Commissioner asked:

“Will transfers from local authority accommodation to Section 95A accommodation by adult migrant care leavers be monitored to look at the impact the policy is having on the missing figures and to determine whether the new arrangements have been successful in encouraging former unaccompanied children to leave the UK?”.

I share the noble Earl’s observations about the likelihood or otherwise of these children going back.

Will the Minister clarify what happens to failed asylum seekers without status turning 18 who make further submissions under the Immigration Rules, resulting in either the grant of leave or acceptance of the further submissions as a fresh claim for asylum? Will this group return to being eligible for leaving care support from their former local authority? Will the Minister clarify what provision—whether under the Children Act 1989 or under Schedule 3—will be available to care leavers with no status who do not have a pending non-asylum application or appeal when they turn 18?

Our amendments in this group are all small probing amendments. As I know that the Minister’s briefing will refer to them, I will mention simply three types of amendments. One refers to an “application … of a kind”. This phrase occurs in two places in government Amendment 234G. Does that application of a kind refer to the leave which is applied for? I think that it probably does, but I was not sure about that.

A couple of our amendments seek to replace “may” with “must”. I am beginning to think that I might seek a debate just on this issue; I think that most Members of the House would take part in it. These provisions are about making regulations. The Minister will no doubt tell me that they will be made and therefore I do not need to worry. However, I do worry about these things.

Amendment 234X concerns regulations to be taken into account in making a determination with regard to accommodation and subsistence in new paragraph 10A of Schedule 9 to the Bill. New sub-paragraph (7) states that the regulations may specify factors which the person who is to take the decision,

“may or must take into account in making a determination”.

I would like to take out the words “or must”. I find it a very curious thing to give discretion to somebody to make a determination and then have two categories of factors to be taken into account, some of which the person may take into account and some which he must take into account. If you are giving somebody the job of making a judgment, I do not think that the judgment should be fettered in this way. However, the main points have already been made by previous speakers.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I support Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to which I was pleased to add my name, not least as he has been such a consistent champion of the rights of care leavers. I am also supportive of other non-government amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 230D and 239B.

On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke about the deeply unsatisfactory way that this Bill has proceeded, with amendment after amendment having been tabled by the Government since its initial introduction in the Commons. It is particularly inappropriate that amendments concerning an issue as important as the treatment of care leavers should have been introduced in this way, leaving a host of unanswered questions as to how the new provisions affecting such a particularly vulnerable group—as the noble Earl emphasised—will work in practice.

This vulnerability cannot be magicked away by constant referral to this group of young people as adult migrants, as if, miraculously, the vulnerabilities that were recognised at the age of 17 years and 11 months have evaporated overnight on their 18th birthday. As the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers point out, it is long established in law and policy that those who have been in care need continued support on turning 18 in light of their vulnerabilities. Indeed, leaving care and children’s legislation is predicated on an understanding of the need to provide additional support beyond just accommodation and subsistence needs after the age of 18.

Likewise, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner points out:

“For the purposes of the Commissioner’s primary function, a person who is not a child is to be treated as a child if he or she is aged 18 or over and under 25, and a local authority in England has provided services to him or her under”,

the relevant sections of the Children Act at any time after she or he turned 16. As the commissioner explains,

“the intention of the Children’s Act was to establish that leaving care responsibilities apply by virtue of the authorities’ position as good ‘corporate parents’ irrespective of the care leaver’s particular circumstances and in recognition that turning 18 does not result in overnight independence from those who have cared for you previously”.

By removing these young people from the protection provided by the Children Act, Schedule 9 also takes care leavers with unresolved immigration status out of the remit of the Children’s Commissioner, thereby overturning a provision introduced for good reason by Parliament as recently as 2014.

Once again, immigration control trumps the well-being and protection needs of children and young people—a more general tendency observed by the JCHR, of which I was then a member, in its report on the human rights of unaccompanied children and young people in the UK. As the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the alliance argue, it is creating a two-tier discriminatory system of support for care leavers based on immigration status. One consequence is that a young person on turning 18 could be torn from their foster parents with whom they may have developed a strong and loving relationship. Think what effect this might have on a young person who had suffered earlier trauma as

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a result of separation from her or his parents. This really is disgraceful and it makes me both sad and angry to think what we might be doing to this particularly vulnerable group.

Many young people in this position do not even understand that they have no leave to remain after the age of 18. Amendment 230D is particularly relevant here. The JCHR inquiry concluded:

“Discretionary leave to remain is used too readily at the expense of properly considering other options”,

and recommended that decisions should be,

“made about their future on robust evidence as early as possible”.

That this should happen will be all the more important once Schedule 9 takes effect. The JCHR report made clear that:

“The duty towards an unaccompanied migrant child does not end at 18”,

and argued that it is right that local authorities’ duties,

“continue to apply to vulnerable children who may continue to require support as they face fundamental decisions about their future”.

It notes that the Government, in their written evidence to the inquiry:

“stressed that unaccompanied migrant children were supported ‘in the same way as any other child in need’, throughout and beyond the care system”,

but no more, my Lords.

We were highly critical in that report of how effectively existing duties towards migrant young people were fulfilled. But that is not a reason for absolving local authorities of these duties. We recommended that:

“Unaccompanied migrant children must be properly supported in the transition to adulthood”,

and that,

“bespoke and comprehensive care plans”,


“take full account of the wishes of the child … remain applicable up to the age of 21, or 25 if the young person remains in education, to enable children to realise their maximum potential”.

The Government responded:

“We agree with the Committee that children should be properly supported in the transition to adulthood”.

It would seem that they believe, in the face of all the evidence, that that transition ceases on a child’s 18th birthday.

Schedule 9 raises all kinds of practical questions that must be clarified before it becomes law. We have heard some from the noble Earl and from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She referred to questions raised by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Has the Minister met the Children’s Commissioner to discuss these matters? If not, will he undertake to do so before Report, or to include her in the meeting that he has very kindly already offered, because she is charged with protecting the rights of this group? As it is, Schedule 9 will remove rights established to protect some of the most vulnerable young people in the country, as we have heard. I have said this before and I will say it once again: this cannot be right.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I have a question which comes up in parallel to this huge group of amendments. It is as follows: if a young person or

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adult has been in this country for more than seven years without committing any serious offence and is therefore in a position where they would be eligible for British citizenship, if they applied for it, is it the intention of the Home Office to deport them? I will just explain that this question arises from the visit that my noble friend and I made to Yarl’s Wood today. I quite understand if the Minister does not feel able to give me an answer now but if he does not, will he please write to me and place a copy in the Library?

7.30 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, having heard my noble friend and others, it is clear how important these amendments are, and I am sure that the Minister will take them seriously. I will make just one point. Those who are behind these amendments are probably the people in the House who are the most experienced in depth about the issues with children that we are discussing. Their commitment to effective work with children cannot be doubted. It would therefore be outrageous if the Committee did not take seriously what they feel is important to put forward as amendments.

The one thought that strikes me is our failure to think ahead, to think in a wider context and to make connections. We agonise about the rising evidence of mental illness. We agonise about delinquency, extremism and terrorism. What are we doing with this younger generation? Are we actually trying to generate mental illness? Are we trying to generate recruits for extremists or, at a lesser level, gangs? Do we really want to build healthy citizens? These children are going to go somewhere, and they are either going to be positive, creative citizens or they are going to be deeply damaged youngsters with all kinds of negative consequences. We really need to bring our thinking together on social policy, health policy and all the policies necessary for a stable society and, indeed, for protection against extremism. These amendments are highly relevant to the imperative of that wider thinking.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I do not want to detain the Committee because we have heard the significance of these amendments, to some of which I have added my name. I want to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said because we all know that the consequence of not providing for these young people when they leave the care system is serious because they are going to remain in this country.

Given that these young people are likely to remain here and to go under the radar, I simply ask the Minister to comment on the figures in relation to removal directions served on former unaccompanied young people in 2014. As I understand it, 245 removal directions were served on former asylum-seeking unaccompanied young people, but only 15—less than half of 1%—were forcibly removed. What I cannot see is how any of the proposed legislation is going to do anything other than make that situation worse and make those young people more destitute. The Children’s Society has plenty of evidence of those young people ending up sleeping on buses and selling the currency of their bodies to have somewhere to stay. I cannot think that that is the sort of response that we in this House want or the sort of society we want to create.

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I will not go through the list of cases that the Children’s Society has given me of people who have now reached the age of majority and are receiving some support in education and training, putting themselves in a position where they can make a contribution to our society. But if we implement a system whereby they do not get support after the age of 18, as others do, we are storing up enormous trouble for ourselves and huge financial as well as emotional costs.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, the amendments in this group concern Clause 38 and Schedule 9. I declare an interest as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham.

As we have heard, many noble Lords have concerns about this part of the Bill, particularly the effect it may have on children who do not understand their immigration status and who, on reaching the age of 18, can find themselves in considerable difficulties. As we have heard, Schedule 9 aims to remove most local authority obligations under the Children Act to care leavers with unresolved immigration status.

We have to be clear that in these circumstances we are dealing with very young people—young adults but also very vulnerable people—and before approving these provisions we need to be satisfied that proper arrangements are in place to look out for these young people, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have said, are at risk of serious abuse and other terrible things. They will lose their entitlement to support from the local authority where they have lived for many years and will not be allowed to remain with their foster parents. This is a particularly tough decision, along with the young adult not being able to benefit, on leaving care, from the services of a personal adviser to provide advice and support in place of a parent.

The Bill is flawed because it assumes that everything is okay, everything has been done properly and there is nothing to worry about—“Just use those criteria to assess them”. But it must be understood that these people will have come here as young children, they can be traumatised and have no understanding of why they are here and why they are on their own. They may have witnessed terrible things that no person, let alone a child, should witness. Is it really correct that we just assume that everything has been done properly when the reality may be very different? The best the young person could hope for would be being placed in Home Office accommodation, potentially far away from their foster family and the area they have grown up in and have come to understand. It can be far away from their existing support networks and their legal representatives. They will have to establish that they are destitute and have been refused asylum and that there is a “genuine obstacle” to leaving the UK.

Amendment 230D, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, seeks to deal with the problem where the young person, on reaching 18, has not had the correct advice and could have been entitled to register as a British citizen or otherwise, and it makes provision for the schedule to have no effect in these cases. It is an excellent amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept or at least reflect on before we come back to this issue on Report. It will be important

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for the Minister to set out carefully what safeguards are in place to ensure that injustices are prevented from happening and are not built into the provisions in Schedule 9. I endorse all the questions asked of the Minister by noble Lords in the debate.

Amendments 235 and 236, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser, seek to maximise parliamentary scrutiny and ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to debate and approve by resolution the regulations before they come into force. These regulations have such far-reaching consequences that it is right that this level of scrutiny takes place, and I think there are some government amendments on the Marshalled List which have a similar effect.

Other probing amendments in this group, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and other noble Lords, seek to improve the provisions and increase the protections available to care leavers. They all have the support of these Benches and it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to the issues they raise. There are a number of government amendments, which I am sure the Minister will explain in detail shortly. I may have some further questions after hearing his explanation.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab): My Lords, my Amendment 239B relates to asylum seekers who came to this country as children, who then progress into higher education. They are currently subject to the rules that provide for higher fees in education because they have come from abroad, so they face the charges that are faced by those who apply to come to this country, as though they were people living elsewhere.

I am seeking an amendment to the Bill to allow for those young people not to be subject to the charges faced by foreign students and, since they have come as asylum seekers and are living now in this country, being provided the protection and safe haven of this country, we might therefore provide for tuition fees to be charged at the lower rate that is charged to people in this country. I should have risen before my noble friend on the Front Bench, but I had not realised that my amendment was in this group. That is the basic argument being made for Amendment 239B.

I have direct experience of this because, as I think I have mentioned in the House before, there is a small foundation which gives bursaries to people who are particularly disadvantaged. A category of them are asylum seekers, so we are very conscious of the problems that young people have when they come to this country and are given a safe haven. They are then often the most diligent at sixth-form colleges and in further education, and go on to higher education, but they face this incredibly high bill, although they have very little resource at all. We can help them in the tiniest ways, but they are facing the increased fee as if they were a well-to-do person applying to come to study in this country from abroad. So we think that the Government might want to look at this matter.

Lord Bates: My Lords, I am conscious of the time and that there has been some shuffling around and stern looks from the usual channels, who are looking to make progress. I hope your Lordships will bear with

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me when I say that it just happens that the way in which the scheduling has gone, we arrived at what is probably the most important group of amendments just before 7 pm. There are a huge number of people outside as well as inside this Chamber who need to understand what the 26 amendments that the Government have in this group, and of course the other amendments in it, would do. I need to put that on the record—that is a kind of clue to those people who are hovering that it may well be 15 minutes before I have done that. I hope that the House will bear with me and understand that we are talking about a very important group. I want to get those comments and explanations on the record so that they can be examined ahead of Report and our meeting.

To shorten somewhat what I will go through, I again refer noble Lords to my letter of 21 January and to the response explaining Schedules 8 and 9. I particularly draw the Committee’s attention to paragraphs 64 through to 76, and to appendix B. I have struck out some remarks of explanation in the areas covered in that document, which has been circulated and is in the public domain. I have also given an undertaking to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that we will have a meeting on this—an opportunity to exchange views and take a little more time to look at the evidence in the period between Committee and Report.

Clause 38 and Schedule 9 make changes to local authority support in England for migrants without immigration status, under Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, while they establish a lawful basis to remain here or prior to their departure from the UK. Our public consultation on asylum support highlighted concerns that the framework provided by Schedule 3 and associated case law was complex and burdensome for local authorities to administer, and involved complicated assessments and continued litigation to establish what support should be provided and in what circumstances. The Public Bill Committee of the Commons heard similar concerns from local authority colleagues.

We are clear that we want to encourage and enable more migrants without any lawful basis to remain here to leave the UK in circumstances where they can do so, while retaining appropriate safeguards. We have also listened carefully to what local authorities have told us about the scope for simplifying and strengthening the current framework. In that context, we have also had engagement with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and I will ensure that we get a readout from those discussions for our meeting.

Schedule 9 therefore makes two key changes to Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act. First, it simplifies the way in which local authorities assess and provide accommodation and subsistence for destitute families without immigration status. It enables local authorities to continue to provide, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, for any other needs of a child or their family in order to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. Secondly, it prevents adult care leavers who have exhausted their appeal rights and have established no lawful basis to remain here from accessing local authority support under the 1989 Act. It makes alternative provision for their accommodation, subsistence and other support

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before they leave the UK. It ensures that local authorities can still provide these care leavers with any social care support which they consider that the young adult needs during this period.

7.45 pm

Schedule 9 includes powers for similar changes to the UK-wide framework in Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act to be made in other parts of the UK by secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative procedure. We are continuing to discuss with the devolved Administrations how that will work in practice in their jurisdictions. As I have said, I wrote to noble Lords on 21 January setting out the details.

In proposing that Clause 38 and Schedule 9 should stand part of the Bill, I will also move a number of government amendments which make important improvements to these provisions. These reflect our discussions with local authorities and other partners and the advice that we have received about particular cases and scenarios. We have listened carefully to the views of noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing together experts from a number of voluntary organisations working in this field to discuss the issues raised by these measures. The government amendments that I am moving today respond to several important issues which have been put to us.

In particular, I would highlight Amendments 234G and 236ZB to 236ZD. These amendments retain Children Act support for those adult care leavers with an outstanding first application or appeal to regularise their immigration status. This will provide an important safeguard, for example, for those who have been looked after by a local authority as a victim of trafficking or because of problems within their own family here.

Amendments 234Y and 235M will enable local authorities to prevent destitution by providing temporary support to families and care leavers under new paragraphs 10A and 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, pending their decision on eligibility. This will ensure that there is no gap in the support that can be provided. Amendments 235D and 235F will enable local authorities to provide under paragraphs 10B and 11 of Schedule 3 for any other social care support that they consider is required by an adult care leaver whose accommodation and subsistence needs are being met by the Home Office. The same safeguard will apply to any adult care leaver who the local authority is supporting under paragraph 10B.

We have listened and acted to ensure that young adults do not fall between the cracks. We will continue to listen and to reflect on today’s debate. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters further. In providing a better basis for local authority support in this area, we are continuing to work very closely with the Local Government Association and other professionals working in the interests of looked-after children and young adults. We shall want the benefit of their advice on the implementation plans and, crucially, the transitional arrangements as well as on the substance of the measures. We are clear that these changes should not adversely affect any young person currently cared for by a local authority. Processes, systems and safeguards must interlock. Working with

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local authorities and the Department for Education, we shall ensure that the right planning is done for this to be so.

Amendment 230D, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would disapply the changes made for adult care leavers by Clause 38 and Schedule 9 where the local authority has not ensured that they have received the advice and assistance necessary to make an application for immigration status. I agree with much of the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s amendment but not with its terms. Schedule 9 will not affect the support that must be provided to unaccompanied migrant children in the care of a local authority. They will remain supported under the Children Act 1989, like any other looked-after child. This will include the provision of a personal adviser and pathway plan to assist in their transition, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned. I will write to noble Lords on the specific numbers of people affected, as well as covering a number of the points that I will not be able to reach in answer to the questions raised in the course of the debate.

The Department for Education’s statutory guidance for this group is clear that social workers need to support these children to engage with the immigration authorities to resolve their immigration status. This work should be done as an integral part of their pathway plan, which must address the support they will need if they are granted leave to remain in the UK and their long-term future is here. It also needs to address the support they will need before they leave the UK if the Home Office and the courts decide that they have no lawful basis on which to remain here. We are making no change to the Children Act framework in this respect. It will continue to apply, as now, to adult care leavers pending the outcome of an outstanding asylum claim or first immigration application or appeal and to those who, before the age of 18, are granted leave to remain.

In that context, I turn to Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which would remove the changes made by Schedule 9 to local authority support for adult care leavers. They would maintain, in all cases, the local authority duties under the Children Act 1989 to support them and require those to be adequately funded. I acknowledge the noble Earl’s deep knowledge and expertise in these areas and his concern for the care of young people. I have listened carefully to him and other noble Lords and will continue to do so, particularly at the meeting.

To be clear, the changes in Schedule 9 will affect only those adults leaving local authority care who have not established a lawful basis on which to remain in the UK. I do not agree in principle that this particular group should attract local authority duties to provide support which are designed for the needs and development of those care leavers whose long-term future is in the UK. The Children Act 1989 was not intended to be, and is not appropriate as, a vehicle for meeting the support needs, pending departure from the UK, of adults who the courts have agreed have no right to remain here. We need instead to provide the right basis for ensuring that their individual needs are met prior to their departure from the UK.

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Under Schedule 9, local authority support will be available, through new paragraph 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, to those who have exhausted their appeal rights and do not face a genuine obstacle to their departure from the UK but who the local authority is satisfied need support. This will enable the local authority to ensure that support does not end abruptly, so that there can be a managed process of encouraging and enabling departure from the UK. The local authority will be able to provide accommodation, subsistence and, by virtue of paragraph 11 of Schedule 3, such other social care support as it considers necessary in individual circumstances. This might, for example, include social worker support in coming to terms with the requirement to leave the UK and making arrangements for that. Where appropriate, it might involve remaining in a foster placement for that period.

Home Office support will be available to those adult care leavers whose asylum claim has failed but who would otherwise be destitute and who face a genuine obstacle to their departure from the UK. Again, the local authority will be able to provide such other social care support as it considers necessary in individual circumstances.

I recognise the important issues of principle raised in this debate. I also recognise the context for it. It is not appropriate that we create such obvious incentives for more unaccompanied children to seek to come to the UK to claim asylum for the wrong reasons, often by using dangerous travel routes controlled by people smugglers and traffickers, and for more young asylum seekers to claim, falsely, to be under 18.

Amendments 234H and 234L, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would amend government Amendment 234G. That amendment provides for regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure, to specify the kind of outstanding first immigration application which, pending its outcome, will mean that the adult care leaver remains subject to the Children Act framework. The noble Baroness would instead specify the circumstances which could give rise to such an application. I am not persuaded at this stage that this would be a more effective definition. Instead, it would be less precise and more open to debate, and therefore offer less of a safeguard to the young adults concerned.

Amendments 235G and 235H, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would similarly amend the scope for local authority support under new paragraph 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act for other adult care leavers with an outstanding application for leave. For similar reasons, I am not persuaded that the amendments would make better provision for this group. Her Amendments 234Q and 235B would require the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for support under new paragraph 10A or 10B of Schedule 3 for families and care leavers without immigration status. This is unnecessary, as the changes in local authority support for those groups made by Schedule 9 depend on those regulations being in place.

Amendment 234X, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would prevent the regulations for local authority support under new paragraph 10A of Schedule 3 for families without immigration status specifying factors which the local authority must take

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into account in determining whether the provision of support is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child. This would weaken the framework for consistent decision-making that we intend, working with the Department for Education, the regulations will provide. To be clear, the decision whether support needs to be provided will remain one for the local authority to determine in light of all the circumstances of the case.

Amendments 235 and 236, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy spoke to, would require the regulations providing for support under new paragraph 10A or 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act for families and care leavers without immigration status to be subject to the affirmative procedure. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended this and we are giving due consideration to it.

Amendment 239B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, would allow care leavers granted limited leave immediate access to a student loan to meet home student tuition fees for higher education and require local authorities to pay those fees while the immigration application was determined. I take the additional point she made by way of explanation that children in care are judged to be international students for the purposes of the fees and that therefore the fees will be substantially greater, perhaps between £11,000 and £15,000. I will write to her on that—we will look at it and engage in consultation. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness’s suggestion, but we see some difficulties with it. It will require further discussion, which will continue ahead of Report.

It is reasonable to expect those wishing to access student support to demonstrate a fundamental connection to the UK which would suggest that they are likely to remain here to make a long-term contribution to our economy or society. In nearly all other cases, including those of other migrants and British citizens, individuals are required to demonstrate at least three years of ordinary lawful residence here, and the courts have upheld this approach. It is also reasonable to expect migrants with limited leave to meet a long residence requirement before benefiting from state support in this way. It is also right, as Schedule 9 provides, that the costs do not fall on local authorities. I will look again at the specific point about the difference between domestic and international fees and come back with comments.

Other specific points were raised by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I have a pile of responses to those questions. If the noble Lord and other noble Lords will bear with me, I will put those in writing. They will be circulated to all Members of the Committee and placed on the public record in the Library of the House.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for the care with which he has responded and his full recognition of the vulnerability of these young people. I am grateful to him.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I, too, thank the Minister for giving consideration to the position of people who are facing this fee problem. I am grateful he has given some thought to that.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister told us he received stern looks at the beginning of this group of amendments because of the time that they would take to consider. He has been his usual patient and courteous self in the way that he has addressed the points that have been raised, and 56 minutes on a total of 37 amendments, 26 of which were tabled by the Government, does not seem to be a wholly unreasonable time to take. Indeed, surely it is an example of this House doing its duty to scrutinise, line by line, clause by clause and schedule by schedule, a huge Bill that raises important issues which have been touched on by all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate this evening, which has been passionate and well informed. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, my noble friend Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Listowel.

It was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who reminded us of the questions put by the Children’s Commissioner. The commissioner is, after all, not a non-governmental organisation or a charity: his remit is to promote and protect children’s rights. The four questions to which the noble Baroness referred still need to be answered. She talked about the difference between “may” and “must”. This is a case of “must”: those questions must be answered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, reminded us that turning 18 does not absolve us of our responsibilities. I was thinking of a friend of mine who asked me which were the most challenging years in bringing up my children. I said that a friend had told me that the first 30 years had been the worst, and I suspect that that is true of the experience of many of your Lordships. The children and young adults we are talking about here have no one to fend for them. They are often unaccompanied. They do not have all the resources of the state. They cannot just be left to their own devices. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to remind us of the consequences of people without resources sleeping rough and being pushed into destitution, and how that can lead to mental illness or become a recruiting ground for people who draw them into all sorts of bad pursuits.

As many have said, my noble friend Lord Listowel has been a tireless advocate on behalf of young people. He has huge first-hand experience, and I know that the Minister will take seriously all the points that he made this evening. I welcome what the Minister said about the continuing discussions that will take place outside your Lordships’ House after this evening. There has been some movement in the government amendments tonight—it would be churlish not to thank the Minister for that—but that young person who perhaps personifies the desire of all of us always to receive more, Oliver, may be an inspiration in those discussions. Many more things need to be done, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that, as he put it earlier, the sentiment will be followed by the detail. That is clearly what we need between now and Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 230D withdrawn.

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Clause 38 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.47 pm.

Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and Date of Claim Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Regret

8.02 pm

Moved by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope

That this House regrets that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and Date of Claim Amendment) Regulations 2015 does not contain sufficient information to gain a clear understanding of the policy objective and the intended implementation; and that some of those in receipt of housing benefit will be adversely affected by the regulations.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, it is a pleasure to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, which refers to the 17th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. This is a slightly unusual Regret Motion. I gave the Minister’s private office notice of the fact that I wanted to spend a moment looking at some of the process issues around the regulations and in a wider context before moving on to some comments about the difficulties that may arise for those claiming housing benefit who may be adversely affected by the regulations.

I shall also refer to the 21st report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee because, taken together, they cover an important worry that the committee, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was beginning to have about the information and data supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions over recent weeks and months. Two other sets of regulations, the Universal Credit (Waiting Days) (Amendment) Regulations of a few weeks back and the housing costs amendment regulations, were also subject to some lapses, as is the committee saw it. The committee’s report stated in stark terms that it believed that there was insufficient information to determine the policy intent or intended implementation in the Explanatory Memoranda that the department supplied for the purposes of scrutiny by the committee.

The report used some stark language: there was a section on inaccuracy, a section on incomplete information, one on obscurity and one on lack of context. Taken together, they caused me some concern that this was a matter that should be drawn to the House’s attention. Speaking for myself, I rely almost completely on the excellent work that the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, does. It has a duty to bring matters to the House’s attention when it feels that that is necessary. If it is not getting the basic data that it needs to do that, it is a matter for concern. Incidentally, the Social Security Advisory Committee

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report that also looked at the regulations in front of the House also complained about limited material, lack of consultation and no analysis of the backdating period that was currently being claimed for the regulations as they were submitted to the committee.

Having said all that, I must acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, responded to that in a robust way. He went to the committee and the exchange that he had with it is clearly set out. He agreed to set up a review to ensure that the process is clarified at a strategic level to deal with some of the complaints raised. I warmly welcome that. His letter of 11 January, I think it was, sets out clearly that some work is being done. He has given a reassurance that he will make sure that that happens. I am perfectly prepared to take his word for that, but I am sure that I am not the only Member of this House who will be looking carefully at the review when it is published.

I say this not by way of threat by any stretch of the imagination, but process is an important part of scrutiny. If the process is inadequate, it could be tested in the Lobbies. I am not saying that that by itself would be a reason for voting down statutory instruments, because the policy content is important, too, but these are important procedural matters. I am pleased that the Minister responded as clearly as he appears to have done, but I want the House to know that I support the statutory instruments committee and the SSAC in pursuing the department if they feel that they are not getting the information they need.

Having got that off my chest, I turn very briefly to the content of the final clause of the Motion, which deals with the backdating issue. Again, I drew heavily on the conclusions of the Social Security Advisory Committee. It came up with a compromise of a three-month period for backdating, not one; it is currently six months, as colleagues will know. I have looked at the argument both ways and the government response. I just do not believe that the department has dealt adequately with the important set of detailed questions raised by the Social Security Advisory Committee, which eventually took the issue under reference after it had a workshop about it. These are skilled people who know the complexity of the legacy benefits in a way that is not normally given to the rest of us.

I absolutely agree that the digital service of universal credit will deal with some of this in future. The one-month backdating is perfectly adequate for universal credit in the way that it is cast, as far as I am concerned, although we will need to wait and see what happens. So this is a transitional issue; I understand that. Of course, the announcement was made in the Budget. As the Minister knows, I complained religiously about him letting Treasury Ministers make announcements about social security. It is not a good thing because it is done under purdah. Nobody really gets a chance to look at the consequences. I am sure that the savings are drawn like blood out of the department and it is not an easy thing to do. I understand, too, that there is a responsibility to the nation’s taxpayers. But the Budget announcement just came out of the sky and I do not think any of us had a chance to understand any of the implications until after the deed was done. Once a Budget Statement is made, there is no going back.

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I cannot figure out how the saving is £10 million. There are no data in there that persuade me that that is anything other than an estimate. I understand that it is a marginal amount of money in the totality of the Budget. I also understand that when this kind of material was being sifted through in the Treasury and the department there were a whole lot of other things going on. I can see a context where Ministers were saying, “Well, why are you bothering me with small amounts of money like this?”. Having said that, the people that it may affect are potentially the most vulnerable. We all know that these legacy benefits will still be around for a long time, in spite of everyone’s best endeavours to try and get universal credit implemented as soon as we can. Backdating, as I know from my former constituency days, is a well-known legacy safety net but one of last resort. People who really need it really need it. There are obviously delays, oversights and mistakes in the legacy systems, and we hope that universal credit will deal with some of that, too. But the histories of people who disproportionately claim backdating for lengthy periods of time are, in my experience, those claimants who have a disposition to mental illness and other vulnerabilities. That has to be weighed in the balance.

I would argue, too, that continuous good cause needs to be proved for any backdating claim to be seen under the legacy system. That is a way of dealing with claims that are not considered appropriate or within the rules. So there is a protection there. I also make the point that, as Crisis recently explained to me, its most recent work suggests that if people fall into homelessness —if they cannot get the backdating, are evicted and become homeless—that can cost between £3,000 and £18,000 further downstream to the public purse. That is just passing the problem on to our colleagues in local government. That is not necessarily helpful.

As I understand it, if there is only a one-month backdating period eligible, because there is no eligibility for housing benefit beyond that, there is no capability within the current rules as I understand them of applying discretionary housing payments. You need to be entitled to housing benefit to apply for DHPs. The Government have been quite creative about using discretionary housing payments to fill some of the gaps but I am not sure that they can be used properly in this context that we have in front of us this evening. I am be anxious to be put right on that if I am not correct.

I have just a final point of experience. Through my experience in the Wise Group in Glasgow, I saw one or two really difficult cases of sanctions being applied and, because of that, housing benefit being stopped over a long period of time—wrongly. That causes distress to housing benefit claimants whose situation will be made worse by these regulations.

So I am not sure about the saving. The wider cost-benefit analysis would need to weigh in the balance any discretionary housing payments or alternative payments found by local authorities to try and deal with the consequences of eviction as a result of these changes. I still believe that the SSAC compromise of three months would be a good one. Apart from anything else, the other legacy benefits such as income support

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and income-related JSA already have three months backdating limits. So it is maybe not surprising that the SSAC in its conclusion came to the view that,

“the summary rationale given for the proposals—namely early alignment with UC—is too simplistic and potentially misleading”.

That is quite strong language for the Social Security Advisory Committee, but it is right to be concerned. I share its concerns and I hope that the debate this evening will point up some of the problems that may arise. I hope the Minister will watch these things carefully—I know that he always does—and that he will give us an assurance that if the changes have unintended consequences, he will do his best to bring these matters back to the House and try to get them sorted so that no vulnerable clients and HB applicants in future are caused further distress and misfortune by the content of these regulations. I beg to move.

8.15 pm

Lord Low of Dalston (CB): My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. I will speak particularly on the backdating aspect of the regulations.

Limiting backdating of housing benefit payments to one month is likely to put vulnerable people at risk of rent arrears and subsequent eviction, and possibly homelessness. Crisis, the charity for single homeless people, wrote to tell me that it is concerned that the most vulnerable will be affected by this change, including those who have experienced homelessness. It says that many of the people it supports to find and sustain tenancies make successful backdating claims for housing benefit often for upward of 12 weeks. These are often the result of clients having additional support needs that make it difficult for them to navigate the benefits system. Consequently, they fail to claim the benefits to which they are entitled in time.

The Government dispute the suggestion that limiting the backdating period will lead to tenants falling into rent arrears but Crisis says that many of its clients accrue considerable arrears before they seek the support they need to backdate a claim. Backdating claims are often made following a change in circumstances that affect a person’s entitlement or because of failures in the system that lead to housing benefit not being paid. I will mention three examples of when people may need to make a backdated claim. There is where there are fluctuations in income. When someone finds a job their entitlement to housing benefit must be adjusted. If they enter casual work, such as on a zero-hours contract, their entitlement must be calculated on a weekly basis. This can lead to payments being stopped until the claimant can provide all necessary payslips. That causes delay and the need for a backdated claim. The ability to backdate by only one month may not be enough to cover that delay.

Housing benefit claim forms may be lost. Despite the best intentions of council staff, housing benefit claim forms can go missing or online submissions may not be received. I can empathise with this and can vouch for the fact that this kind of thing can happen through nobody’s fault. Today, I rang up to buy some more premium bonds, only to be told that I needed to provide a password. Apparently, one had been sent

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to me in the course of the last year but it never arrived. Getting back to housing benefit, resubmitting claim forms can cause serious delays at the beginning of a tenancy. We need a backdating period sufficient to cover such delays.

Again, housing benefit is sometimes stopped in error when someone is sanctioned. This can lead to arrears, particularly if the landlord is receiving direct payments and does not notify the tenant that the rent has not been paid.

The Social Security Advisory Committee advised that the case for this policy has not been made out and recommended that it should be possible to backdate housing benefit for at least three months. It says that inconsistencies between the rules attaching to different benefits are hard to defend and add to the complexity that claimants are required to navigate. For people whose rent is paid monthly or four-weekly in arrears, the proposal will mean that there is no slack in the current complex legacy benefit context for them to realise that there is a problem with their housing benefit entitlement and make a late claim. This presents a clear risk that the impact on landlord and tenant behaviour could result in upward pressure on homelessness among the more vulnerable, with attendant costs that could offset the projected savings. It is disappointing, the committee says, that there has been no cost-benefit analysis of these aspects. For people whose rent is paid monthly or four-weekly in arrears, the proposal will mean that the new rules will not provide sufficient time for a backdated claim to cover the delays that have taken place.

The fact that there has been no effective impact assessment makes it difficult to assess the effect of reducing backdating by different amounts from the current six months. Centrepoint undertook a survey of more than 800 young people using its services and found that 78% of those who made a late claim for housing benefit were not seeking backdating for longer than three months; the majority of backdating claims could therefore be accommodated within a three-month period, and reducing it further could have a financial impact on a sizeable group of vulnerable young people, potentially causing hardship to those least able to withstand it. Centrepoint highlighted the fact that the legacy benefits system is more complex than universal credit; that being the case, there is a strong case for maintaining a longer backdating period to account for these complexities. Removing the ability to back-date housing benefit claims for a sufficient period may deter landlords from letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. Landlords may be particularly reluctant to let to people who have experienced homelessness in the past, given that they may be vulnerable to falling into rent arrears, often through no fault of their own.

The committee concluded that the position faced by housing benefit legacy claimants, particularly the more vulnerable, is substantially different and more challenging than the position following migration on to universal credit. It added that in the absence of a robust impact assessment, the case for a simple alignment with a one-month backdating rule has not been made and that there is a significant risk of offsetting additional costs to the estimated one-year saving of £10 million if

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the proposal is pursued in this form. It therefore recommends that, if the Government still wish to make an early reduction in the backdating period, a three-month period would strike a better balance between the aim of securing an expenditure saving and recognition of the substantial differences between the housing benefit legacy and universal credit positions. With the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I would want to maintain that the three-month compromise is the one that we should go for, and the Government should rethink.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for giving us the opportunity to range over this issue this evening and to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his very extensive analysis of some of the risks around homelessness that these changes will create. Given the hour and the business to follow, I shall raise one or two brief questions.

On the family premium, the Explanatory Note with the regulations says:

“Removing the Family Premium helps to simplify the overly-complex HB system … and should therefore reduce administration costs”.

Can the Minister seriously tell me how much of a reduction in administration costs is anticipated just from removing this one component of what is and can be quite a complex calculation? It seems to me that it should be built into the system, so whether it is there or removed would make very little difference to the cost.

As for backdating, we have heard the arguments against the Government’s position that effectively we want to get equality with universal credit and if universal credit only needs one month’s backdating why does the housing benefit system need longer? I should have thought that it was recognised—and the noble Lord, Lord Low, has made it clear—that the housing benefit system is more complex. Indeed, is that not one of the boasts of the Government about universal credit, which we have supported—that it is an easier system whether you are in or out of work? You simply move up the scale; you do not have to come off one system of benefits and go on to another, or seek to return to them in due course.

We are in danger of overlooking a fundamental point here—that this is about backdating if there can be shown to be good cause. It is not something that is awarded willy-nilly. There are particular concerns around people with mental health conditions and the extent to which they are supported to make the right sort of decisions and judgments about their claim for benefits. That seems to sweep aside that issue.

There is one technical issue that the Minister may be able to help with. If somebody is awarded JSA after making a claim, they would be entitled to a three-month backdating of that benefit. The award of that benefit could automatically transport somebody on to maximum housing benefit—somebody who was not previously eligible for housing benefit. So we get somebody on JSA with a three-month backdating, which opens up the opportunity for housing benefit for somebody not previously entitled. There is something in the text that suggests that that backdating would apply to housing

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benefit as well, but I cannot quite see technically how that comes about. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that on the record tonight, because clearly there would be an anomaly with accessing one benefit opening up the opportunity for another benefit and giving rise for different backdating results, as a result particularly of these regulations.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): My Lords—

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm to respond to the challenges put to him, but I regret that I am going to add to them, if he can bear with us for a little bit longer. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for giving us the opportunity to debate these regulations and for having gone into some detail about the process questions. I very much share his concerns. We have concerns of substance on these Benches, but the process should be of concern to all Members of the House, irrespective of the view that they may take on these regulations. I hope that the Minister gives some satisfactory answers on that.

As we have heard, these regulations do two things: they remove the family premium from claims to housing benefit from April 2016 and the backdating of housing benefit, to which I shall come in a moment. Existing claimants will also be affected if their circumstances change, such as if they move or if a child reaches the age of 18. When it is lost, it will be lost almost exclusively to working families, because households where someone is claiming an out-of-work benefit will automatically receive the maximum possible housing benefit payment. The Social Security Advisory Committee report cited an example from the Peabody Trust of a single parent in part-time work, caring for her disabled adult son. Should she need to make a new claim for housing benefit following the removal of the family premium, she would lose around £572 a year, compared to what she would get currently—a lot of money for someone in those circumstances.

My noble friend Lord McKenzie asked a very good question about the admin costs. It is hard to believe that simplification is the reason; one could always simplify benefits by abolishing them. We really do have to have better arguments than that.

The DWP claims that withdrawing the family premium in HB will “promote better work incentives”, but, as the SSAC points out, some HB claimants will permanently lose the premium if they temporarily increase their hours and therefore could be deterred from doing so. Equally, some will be deterred from moving address to secure or look for work if it means a drop in HB, or could be discouraged from taking short-term work over Christmas, for example, if it means a drop in housing benefit. Will the Minister comment on that?

The SSAC was also very critical of the Government’s refusal to adopt linking rules. It gives the very serious example of domestic violence victims who need to be rehoused and points out that if somebody moves outside a local authority area, they lose the entitlement. The SSAC points out that some local authorities and social landlords have a deliberate policy of moving

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domestic violence victims to a different local authority area to minimise the risk that they would run into their assailant and to protect them. It states:

“Those organisations now face a fairly stark choice in terms of whether to keep the existing policy in the knowledge that the victim is likely to be financially worse off, or to rehome them within the existing local authority area where they may be at greater risk”.

The Government’s only response to this is to say:

“Since 2010 our policy has been to move away from building new linking into our reforms to Housing Benefit”.

That is not a reason. That is basically saying “The reason for our policy is that it is our policy”. I hope the Minister can give us the reason behind the policy rather than telling us that it is the policy. The Government go on to say that they do not think linking rules are the most appropriate way of supporting vulnerable cases, but they do not explain why. The only alternative they can offer is our old friend the discretionary housing payment, which has already been offered as an answer to almost every problem created by welfare change since 2010, from the fallout of the welfare Bill to the benefit cap.

The SSAC also points out that universal credit will allow linking and continuity of claim where there is a temporary increase in income or relocation to another local authority area, but they will not be available under these HB proposals which it says will have a negative impact on work incentives and will raise issues around income stability and security.

I now come to the backdating change which other noble Lords have commented on. A number of NGOs and charities have said that limiting backdating to one month will have a significant impact on vulnerable renters, a point made very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie. As we have heard, the SSAC recommended that the Government should not proceed with the reduction from six months to one month. It is interesting that the committee expressed disappointment at the lack of proper consultation with local authorities, landlords and voluntary and charitable bodies which will be impacted by these changes. I hope the Minister can explain why that consultation was not done.

The SSAC’s view is that the position faced by HB legacy claimants, especially the more vulnerable, is substantially different and more challenging than the position following migration to universal credit. It pointed out that in the absence of a robust impact assessment the case for simple alignment was not there.

The response from the Government to the SSAC report was so slight as to be almost rude. Their only argument is to say that the policy intention is to align the housing benefit treatment with that in universal credit. Where is the rush? As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, pointed out, it is not as though the entire population is about to land on universal credit. I know that back in November 2010 the DWP believed that everybody would be on it by 2017, but we now know that it is going to be at least 2020, possibly 2021, and maybe some way beyond that. We are years away from everyone needing housing support getting it entirely through universal credit. There could yet be millions of people who could come on to housing benefit, get it, move into work, come off it, come back on to it and

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still not be on universal credit, so there is a significant issue. I hope the Government will tell us their real reasons. It cannot just be that they want to be in exactly the same position on universal credit and on legacy benefits; otherwise they presumably would not have allowed the situation to develop where two people in identical circumstances, one on tax credits and the other on universal credit, could find themselves with a difference of £3,000 a year in entitlement. Will the Government tell us what the real reasons are?

To summarise I would like the Minister to answer some questions. I will be interested in his response to the process points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He referred to the Minister’s letter of 11 January to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, saying that he had instigated a review of the way the DWP produces explanatory memoranda. Will he tell the House when that review is likely to report? Will its findings be published? If they are not going to be published, how will the House get reassurance that his department will be able to do this job better in the future than it has in the past? Will he tell us why the Government did not consult properly before issuing this instrument? Will he explain the reasons for opposing a linking rule in the family premium? In particular, will he tell us why he has rejected the SSAC recommendation of three months if the Government are not willing to go all the way to six months? I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

Lord Freud: My Lords, I ask noble Lords to forgive me for not keeping up with the exact floating role of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, as he moves forward and back on the Benches. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions which, as one would expect, covered a number of issues.

I start with the family premium, which will align housing benefit with universal credit, which does not have this process. As noble Lords will be well aware, it applies to new cases only. It will therefore not affect people in receipt of family premium on 30 April this year. They will continue to receive the family premium until they are no longer responsible for any children or young people under 20 or make a new claim for housing benefit. To avoid people dying at the stake for the sake of these premiums, I remind noble Lords of their very complicated history which started in 1988. With the reform of tax credits, it was removed from income support but not from housing benefit. I know there is a lot of historical nostalgia for bits of the benefit system, but this one reminds me more of an appendix than of anything else: it had a purpose at one time, but it is pretty odd to remember what it was and it can cause you problems, as I am discovering.

On the linking rules, where claimants are in receipt of housing benefit and subsequently move house into a different local authority, they are required to make a new claim for housing benefit. That has always been the case and the policy does not seek to change it. If the claimants were in receipt of the family premium before their move and they move after 30 April, they will no longer receive the family premium in their new housing benefit claim from their new local authority. That responds to the question from the noble Baroness,

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Lady Sherlock. I know that the noble Baroness likes to stretch out the period for which this will last, but universal credit will be coming in for new cases reasonably soon. It is simply not feasible to introduce linking rules for these cases because that really would introduce a level of complexity and cost.

I regret that I cannot answer the precise question from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on the administration costs saved. When you go through the sums of how you reach that family premium amount and then do the taper with it, and you have to do that differently through every local authority, I have to believe that it genuinely saves some money. However, I cannot put any amount on that.

On the point about work incentives made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the loss of family premium would be one factor among many others, including the financial gain and development prospects that would come from entering work. It is important to mention the likely behavioural change that could result from this policy, as the potential reduction in benefit may make claimants more likely to find work or increase their hours. Indeed, you see evidence of that in some of our welfare reforms already.

I turn to the issue of backdating, which noble Lords touched on. This change introduces equality for working-age claimants by aligning housing benefit rules with those in universal credit. Under current rules, as noble Lords have pointed out, the working-age housing benefit claimants may have their claim treated as made from a date up to six months before they actually make the claim. The backdating period will apply from the date of claim and is not dependent on the time that it takes to process claims. Our rationale is that the one month provides a reasonable period to seek assistance or to get claimant affairs in order for those who can demonstrate good reason as to why they did not claim more promptly. While claimants still receive legacy benefits before migration to UC, there is sense in preparing them for the transition to UC by, so far as practicable, equalising how they are treated. The other factor that is useful when we look at this is that our administrative data show that more than two-thirds of backdating claims for housing benefit are awarded for one month or less.

The noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Low, asked why we rejected the three-month recommendation —although, interestingly, the numbers between the one-month figure and the three-month figure are actually not very great. We are aiming to change behaviours. If people want to claim benefits, one month allows sufficient time for them to register a claim in the first instance. It does not matter if it is a more complicated process, because the processing and getting the detail does not change the date of entitlement, which is established on the initial claim.

To respond to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who as usual has excruciating detail at his fingertips, I confirm—and I am impressed that he has looked at this—that where a claim for housing benefit is linked to a claim for one of the legacy income-related benefits that applies the three-month backdating rule, entitlement to housing benefit will be linked back for the full three months if it is made within one month of the award for legacy benefit. So he got that spot on.

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On the point from the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Low, we do not anticipate pressures on the homelessness front. I am slightly influenced by the fact that every time we make such a change we are warned about that but so far it has not come through.

Lord Low of Dalston: Does the Minister not agree that I gave some concrete and tangible examples where people might be justified in needing to have their claim backdated for longer than a month, through no fault of their own—for example, where forms have gone missing or where they have been sanctioned in error? Would it really mean any skin off the Government’s nose to include an element of flexibility to take account of those cases? If someone has lost a form or they have been sanctioned in error, those are not instances of behaviour that can be changed by limiting the backdating rules to one month.

Lord Freud: I listened very carefully to the noble Lord on those points. My response to that is, if the claim was made on that date and it was lost but it was made then, the issue is whether the bureaucracy accepts the claim that it is lost. The date is established then, and would be established in both of those cases. A lot of the problems may be through legacy benefits, where, as I just explained, the situation has not changed.

DHPs are designed to give additional support to claimants who need it. It is technically possible for DHPs to meet a historic need, although in practice we suspect that it is rather unlikely that a local authority would make this award for that reason, as the regulations state that a claimant should need further financial assistance with housing costs to receive a DHP. As the time period that they are applying for would have passed, it would be difficult to argue that there was a need for financial assistance with housing costs. Therefore it is unlikely but not impossible.

8.45 pm

On the issue of impact assessments raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, as noble Lords will be aware, the DWP administers a complex system of benefits and produced over 500 statutory instruments in the last Parliament. It considers impacts as part of the policy development process, engages regularly and consults a full range of stakeholders to understand potential impacts. We routinely provide impact assessments on large measures such as universal credit, but we do not routinely provide them for the many smaller changes we make where, often, the general context is set out in the impact assessment for the parent legislation and to prepare a full impact assessment for smaller changes would not be an effective use of limited departmental resources. However, I recognise the need—as those noble Lords who saw my evidence to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee will know—to be clear about the effects of proposed changes in the Explanatory Memoranda. The review I have now instigated is examining how we best do that. I have acknowledged publicly that I am not satisfied with those Explanatory Memoranda and that we can do better.

As noble Lords know, I have committed to a review, which is looking at the lessons we can learn from what has gone well and what could be improved. It is

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exploring ways to ensure that Explanatory Memoranda have the right breadth of context, have regard for varying levels of knowledge and explain the headline impacts of proposals. What struck me when I met the committee was that I was dealing with a group of generalists, while SACC is a group of specialists. Do we have the right balance, particularly on context? Some of these things are incredibly complicated; as noble Lords know, you have to be a historian to understand what, for instance, family premiums are trying to do and why they are still there, and why some have gone and some have not. I assure noble Lords that this review is now under way and is making good progress. I will ensure that noble Lords receive a copy of the letter I will send to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee setting out the steps we are taking as a result of the review.

Some noble Lords will remember that we made a big effort to improve things in 2011. That at least got us a couple of years where we seemed to be getting it right, but it seems that another go at this is needed. These regulations will help to align housing benefit with universal credit and are part of a much wider system and set of reforms designed to bring about behavioural change in claimants while drawing a balance between their needs and those of taxpayers, who fund the welfare bill. We are saving money: we saved £6 billion over the last Parliament in housing benefit reforms, and the annual housing benefit bill would have been considerably higher than it is now if we not made some of these changes.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I am grateful to all colleagues who took part and, as always, I am grateful to the Minister. We will all collectively study his remarks in the Official Report tomorrow. I am very grateful for the opportunity the business managers have given us to have this debate, and I am pleased to seek permission of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Immigration Bill

Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

8.49 pm

Amendment 231

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

231: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—

“Review of the rules relating to refugees reuniting with family members

(1) The Secretary of State must undertake a review of the current rules on refugees, or those granted humanitarian protection, reuniting with close family members in the United Kingdom.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider—

(a) the implementation of the provisions in the EU Dublin III Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 604/2013) for spouses or children under 18 with refugee status or those granted humanitarian protection to be reunited with family members in the United Kingdom;

(b) options for allowing British citizens to sponsor close family members recognised as refugees or granted humanitarian protection; and

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(c) options for extending the criteria for family reunion to include children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners or siblings who have refugee status or have been granted humanitarian protection and have close family members in the United Kingdom.

(3) A copy of a report on the review under subsection (1) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 231 and Amendment 234, which will be spoken to shortly by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, both seek to put in the Bill revisions concerning the reuniting of refugees with their family members who are resident in the UK. Again, we are dealing with people in some of the most desperate situations in which you could find yourself. The UK has always had a proud record of being a safe haven for people in such circumstances. The British Red Cross, in its very helpful briefing, provided a number of examples of families who have been split up due to the age of the children, although the whole family has fled a conflict zone. Noble Lords will understand the distress that causes.

Our amendment is very simple. It asks the Secretary of State to conduct a review, which must consider,

“the implementation of the … EU Dublin III Regulation”,

in addition to allowing close family members who are recognised refugees or have been granted humanitarian protection to be sponsored by relatives who are British citizens living in the UK, and,

“options for extending the criteria”,

for who can be considered. A copy of the report,

“must be laid before … Parliament within six months”.

The review would help the Government deal with a number of issues and to examine whether we have the best arrangements in place when dealing with refugees and reuniting them with their families in the UK. That means having the best and fairest rules in place, not just those that seem the harshest.

Some of the issues that could be looked at in the review include the fact that there is no legal aid for sponsors in the UK, as legal aid for this area ended in 2013. Has that policy improved the situation? The rules are restricted to immediate family members only, which means partners and children under the age of 18, so older children, just over the age of 18, are not eligible. There are also issues about adopted children, who are at present regularly refused entry while other children are allowed entry. Then there are the European Union’s Dublin regulations and their application. There are matters such as the applicant not being given the opportunity to submit further evidence if their application is deemed insufficient, forcing them to go through the lengthy appeals route while living in precarious conditions. Is that the UK’s best option for dealing with these difficult issues? Is it the best way to deal with families or to treat vulnerable families? I beg to move.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I start by thanking the all-party trio who have added their names to Amendment 234. Its purpose is to make family reunion easier. It has been drafted by the British Red Cross, to which I am very grateful. Your Lordships will notice

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that the proposed new clause applies only to those with international protection needs—those who have a genuine fear of persecution or who have been forced to flee their homes and country by war, ethnic clearance or genocide. It does not, therefore, open the door to uncontrolled flows of economic migrants.

It is important to know that refugees and protected people in Britain may already bring in their spouses and children. Our amendment would widen the category to include close family members—that is, children aged over 18, dependent parents and grandparents, civil partners and siblings. Such close kin are essential to a full normal family life. Sponsorship from Britain is, however, limited in the amendment by requiring the incomers to be registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or equivalent authority in other countries. Secondly, they should not be a charge on public funds when they are here. In this context, your Lordships may like to note also Amendment 234AA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

The limitations that I have mentioned are important ones, so let no one say that this would be a free-for-all. Subsection (1)(b) of the proposed new clause provides a second legal channel for claims to be made by close family members from overseas. I argue that it is desirable to have in this way a kind of two-way process, available both from this country and from overseas.

I would like to illustrate the critical importance of family reunion given what I saw when visiting Calais almost two weeks ago. The enterprising mass of refugees and migrants in France have made their way so far, against the odds, for thousands of miles, from Africa and the Middle East. They certainly include some who have close family in Britain. Indeed, the French social agency that showed us round had met some such people, and pointed out to us one young man in particular who had lived in England and was searching in France for his next of kin. Another category that we should also welcome is those who have worked for British forces—for example, as interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have some responsibility for such people who risk their lives for our men. We abandon them at our peril.

Sample studies done in France show that about half of those now at Calais and Dunkirk want to come to Britain, while another quarter are probably willing to apply for asylum in France. I have clear advice for our Government: it will be no good sending staff from UK borders to explain conditions here to the camp dwellers or to tell them to apply first in France. Such staff will simply not be credible. What I suggest might work would be to send volunteers from ethnic minorities in Britain to advise on British conditions and on how to apply to come here. That would work even better if our amendment were to be accepted.

While in Calais, we met three deputies from the French Parliament. They were keen to see their own Government speed up asylum applications. They wanted better information for camp dwellers and better co-ordination of relief and volunteer agencies. I trust that these French parliamentarians would agree with me that the French authorities should not bulldoze some of the shacks and tents before alternative accommodation is made available.

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To return to our amendment, the Government may say that the third Dublin regulation already provides for family reunion. But who among the refugees knows about this obscure and highly technical, if well-intended, provision? In how many cases have family members actually been able to use it to achieve reunion in this country? I suggest that family reunion is a blessing to all. It strengthens the families themselves, it helps social cohesion in our communities and it assists the Government by increasing family incomes and reducing the need for services and benefits. Perhaps that may not happen in year one, but it will happen sooner rather than later.

We all know that the Home Office has huge powers of resistance, but I trust that it will not choose to resist this win-win proposal. Our amendment is somewhat stronger than Amendment 231, while still allowing the Secretary of State some discretion on the drafting.

9 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab): I support the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in this amendment. I reiterate what he said: that this is a narrowly drawn amendment. It was drafted by the British Red Cross but is supported by a number of NGOs, including the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. It is closely defined in that it expands the categories of family members eligible for family reunion. It can only be, as the noble Lord has said, those who are coming here to seek respite from war, genocide or ethnic cleansing. They would have to be joining a family member who is already here, having been given refugee or humanitarian protection status. The two caveats are, first, that they would not be able to have recourse to public funds—they would be sponsored—and, secondly, that they would be registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a similarly recognised authority.

We make this argument to the Committee, and to the Government, on the basis that the people involved have close connection already with a family member in Britain. They are at the most extreme end of those who seek support and assistance—who seek a haven from persecution. This draws on the great tradition that we have in this country of offering asylum—genuine asylum—to those in desperate need.

I remind the Committee of what happened in the late 1930s. Although I am a Scot of Catholic background, I am married to a man who, on the one hand, is the son of a Presbyterian Scot but whose mother was a refugee from Austria. She came to this country in 1939, as a doctor from Vienna, and she and her sister managed to get out. Because of Quakers in this country, they were looked after or sponsored on their arrival into this country. They were able to bring their mother from Austria by sponsoring her. We still have among family papers her passport, which bears the stamp “J” for Jew. She came to this country precisely in the way that we are advocating that people should be able to come now—people who are fleeing persecution and are able to say, “Let us have a close family member come and join us”. I know that other Members of the Committee will join me in urging the Government to keep that great tradition alive by allowing for this amendment. It is precisely of the same order.

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I add a coda. The two daughters went on to become practitioners—doctors—who brought great credit to the way in which they were able to join this community. They always felt an enormous indebtedness to the generosity of the people of this country. I urge the Committee, and the Government, to accept the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who has added his name to Amendment 234, cannot be in his place, but I am glad to speak on my own behalf and, I hope, for him, too, since we are of one mind on this matter.

One of the great privileges of being a bishop in the Church of England is found in the many connections we have with Anglican dioceses overseas. The diocese of Southwark has very long-standing links with Zimbabwe, while my own has an association with Papua New Guinea that has gone on for 60 years. I was last there in August and September, visiting the remoter parts of the western highlands, which was a challenge. The welcome is amazing and humbling, but what one learns is about the huge significance of family and kinship roots in such societies. They make all the difference for individuals between flourishing and destitution. They provide the practical and emotional bonds through which people make sense of life. They are the source of social and financial security, elder care, child care and so on.

I reflected while I was there on the atomistic character of many British social and family relationships, which seem very limited and limiting by contrast, and certainly unthinkable to them. Consequently, when states fail and insecurity becomes unbearable, as we have already heard, families do shift, but they do not fracture even if the world around them does; mutual obligations hold. When one flees terror and ruin, there can be no better way to do it than with those with whom there exist bonds of affection and mutual obligation. It may seem to us to be an organisational and financial necessity to break up family units or kinship groups, but to those within them in such situations, it seems like madness.

I appreciate that rules already exist to provide for a degree of family reunion, but the sentiment behind the amendment is that they are too restrictive. What sort of family life do we believe in if a minor is admitted to the UK and granted asylum status but there is no basis in the Immigration Rules for parents or siblings to join him or her—or, in reverse, if a Syrian father is granted asylum but not his 19 year-old daughter left in a refugee camp? I realise that the Minister may argue that such cases can be considered outwith the Immigration Rules, but the number of these visas is dropping rapidly, down to just 11 in 2014, which suggests that this is a route that is now very little trodden indeed. I would be grateful for the Minister’s reflection on that tiny number in this context.

The problems and issues underlying our net migration figures do not subsist in family reunion, nor are they caused by them, and hence I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to Amendment 234.