The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has called on the Home Secretary to make an urgent change in immigration policy to protect lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) is a condition imposed on someone due to their immigration status and means that they are prevented from claiming most welfare benefits, tax credits or housing assistance. With many businesses and places of work closed, many families have been left with no income and are prevented from claiming lifeline welfare benefits during the crisis.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, the Mayor highlights some of the areas where the NRPF status is having a serious impact:
- Tower Hamlets Council is providing temporary accommodation for a number of rough sleepers with NRPF, but the council is unsure about how this housing will be paid for in the medium to long term as the individuals are prevented from accessing welfare support;
- Although free school meals eligibility has been expanded, it doesn’t cover all families with NRPF status, meaning some are going without this vital support;
- With national reports that domestic violence has increased during the lockdown, many of those with the NRPF are blocked from accessing domestic violence services.
Mayor Biggs also warns that people with concerns about their immigration status may be too scared to access healthcare treatment including virus testing, potentially harming efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus and undermining public health.
The Mayor is calling on the Home Secretary to suspend NRPF status during the crisis in order to unlock the much-needed financial support.
Yesterday (Wednesday 27 May) during an appearance before the House of Commons Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister appeared surprised that the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy even existed, and had to ask Labour MP Stephen Timms why people with NRPF status weren’t eligible for universal credit and other benefits.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “The Government has rightly brought in a wide-range of financial support measures to help people through the crisis, but those with NRPF status are at risk of falling through the cracks. With so many places of work closed, many families have been left with no income and are locked out of welfare benefits such as universal credit right at the time when they are needed most, leaving them vulnerable and open to exploitation. This needs to change.
“Our priority has to be to stop the spread of this virus and to support people during this crisis, irrespective of their current immigration status.
“I’m calling on the Home Secretary to suspend the NRPF status. There’s no doubt that this is the right thing to do and will save lives.”
Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Planning, Air Quality and Tackling Poverty, said: “Tower Hamlets Council is working hard alongside many great local community organisations during the crisis, but we need to ensure that we’re reaching those who need help the most, and many people with NRPF status are locked out of financial help and are too scared to access support because of their immigration status. Suspending NRPF would throw a lifeline to many people and families who are really struggling during this crisis.”
Text of the letter sent from Mayor Biggs to the Home Secretary:
Dear Home Secretary
I’m contacting to you on behalf of my community regarding asylum seekers, migrants and refugees with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) asking that you consider suspending NRPF status at this time of crisis.
NRPF blocks access to vital benefits and support because of immigration status. During the Covid-19 pandemic our priority should be ensuring everyone’s health and stopping the spread of the virus, but fear of data being shared by the NHS and Home Office may be preventing people getting treatment or tested. Our priority has to be to stop the spread of this virus for all people living in the UK irrespective of their current immigration status – a public health driven approach.
Those with NRPF are effectively locked out of lifeline welfare benefits such as universal credit and although your Government has rightly introduced a broad range of measures to support communities during the pandemic, those with NRPF are not covered. With many businesses and places of work closed down, many families are left with no income placing them in a vulnerable position and open to exploitation.
Local councils up and down the country are playing an important role during the pandemic including in the provision of vital services for those with NRPF, such as temporary accommodation for rough sleepers, social services, VAWG services, and free school meals. But we face a financial cliff edge unless additional support is granted. In parallel, reassurance is needed for people who are fearful because of their immigration status.
Tower Hamlets Council is currently providing temporary accommodation for a number of rough sleepers with NRPF, but we are concerned about their medium-long term housing arrangements and how this will be paid for. Going forward they cannot access the welfare support that would enable them to keep a roof over their head, because of the NRPF condition.
Similarly, whilst you have extended free school meals eligibility during the pandemic, it only includes some children of families who are NRPF. This is overlooking some of the families who need this support the most.
We are also deeply concerned that at a time when domestic violence services are more needed than ever, many of those with NRPF are blocked from accessing the lifesaving support they need.
These are just a few examples of the deeply damaging impact that NRPF is having, but they make it very clear that we need government policy to change to prevent people falling through the cracks during this crisis.
I urge you to do the right thing and grant a suspension of NRPF status. It’s too important an issue to ignore and it will save lives.
Mayor John Biggs
Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets