Ending destitution together: strategy

A strategy to improve support for people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) living in Scotland.

Destitution Risk Factors

For the majority of people who are subject to NRPF, the risk of destitution while they are in the UK is low, because they are working or have another form of financial support, such as savings or assistance from family, which meets their needs.

Risk factors which increase the chance of destitution are often challenging situations in themselves. Destitution can then compound individual circumstances and disadvantages, all of which are detrimental to people’s health, put people at risk of exploitation, and make it more difficult to resolve the underlying cause.

The people who are most at risk of destitution associated with NRPF can also be vulnerable because of other factors. This includes people who have applied for asylum; people living in an informal arrangement where they have no tenancy agreement; people with limited support networks; and people whose status is dependent on another person (e.g. a spouse or dependant visa).

Destitution can also happen at the point someone becomes entitled to access public funds, due to delays in access to support. This might be when someone is granted refugee status, as they have limited time to move on from their asylum accommodation and support, or when someone on a route to settlement has their NRPF condition lifted in recognition that they are at imminent risk of destitution.

Understanding risk factors and how they impact people’s lives is essential for designing policies and service interventions that can prevent, mitigate or resolve destitution.

Risk Factors – which could increase risk of destitution

  • Living in an informal letting arrangement
  • Illness or injury: unable to work or study
  • Unable to prove status in the UK
  • Negative asylum application decision
  • Working on a zero hours contract with varying monthly income
  • Increase in rent or other living costs
  • Redundancy
  • Unexpected cost: e.g. house move or funeral
  • Having a child to support
  • Reduction in working hours
  • Experiencing domestic abuse
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Gap whilst awaiting access to support (e.g. Universal Credit)
  • Needing to apply to extend leave to remain
  • Cost of applying for settlement or leave extension
  • Relationship breakdown

“A person with status who when they went to renew it were refused. They were living. They had a home, a life, a job, etc., but then just told to go and get out. Even when people have status they can have no long term stability.”

Any change in circumstance which results in loss of income, financial support or the ability to earn money can quickly build financial insecurity, debt or rent arrears. Without a safety net, this perpetuates and can become a significant long term issue resulting in destitution.

A change in circumstance which increases the risk of destitution could, for example, be a relationship breakdown or bereavement, illness, or loss of employment. A change of this nature may also have a direct impact on someone’s immigration status in the UK, if it prevents them from meeting conditions set out in their visa, or if their status is dependent on another person’s visa or status in the UK.

The costs of making immigration applications can also make people vulnerable to destitution. People with some types of limited leave to remain in the UK, including on work or student visas, have to pay immigration fees each time they need to extend their leave to remain in the UK. Fees associated with visas, settlement and citizenship applications vary. There are also other costs which, depending on their individual circumstances, people will need to cover, including biometric registration costs and the NHS surcharge.

The cost of fees alongside restrictions on support which reduce income, can be a barrier to people securing long term status in the UK. This includes children born in the UK or who arrived as young children, as well as the parents of British children. If people want to settle permanently, they will also have to meet certain criteria and complete an application for settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain), when they become eligible. These processes can be complicated to navigate and take a long time to complete.

Destitution can also be a risk when people are not able to provide evidence of their status, which can result in NRPF being applied until they are able to do so. This includes people who are stateless and, in some cases, can also affect people who are British citizens, but do not have identification documents and cannot evidence or access their rights (for instance people from the Windrush generation and their descendants). It can also be an issue for EEA nationals who were living in the UK prior to EU Exit but do not have status through the EUSS after June 2021 and are unable to evidence their entitlements to public funds when making applications for benefits.

People who are subject to NRPF are more likely to rent their housing and the cost of renting in the private sector can have a significant impact on their income. Informal letting arrangements, such as living with friends, can also increase the risk of eviction at short notice and homelessness.

“No one will listen unless you have the paper. When you have a problem and you go to seek support, the workers are not looking at you and what you might need as a person, but only for a piece of paper to tell them what to do. There is no compassion or empathy.”

Many migrants have a right to work as part of their permission to reside in the UK. People who have secure employment, with adequate pay, are unlikely to face destitution unless their circumstances change significantly. However, for those in lower paid jobs, working part-time or in insecure sectors (including zero hours contracts and seasonal work), there can be an increased risk of in-work poverty, because they are unable to access benefits or work credits to supplement low income. This increases the risk that destitution could arise from any loss of income.

Sustainable employment which pays well enough to meet essential living costs can be a pathway out of destitution. However, even where people have a right to work, they can face additional barriers to gaining employment, including language barriers and recognition of skills where their qualifications and experience has been gained abroad.

People seeking asylum are not generally permitted to work while they wait for the outcome of their application. This prevents them from establishing an independent income or increasing the resources they have to meet living costs by supplementing any support to which they are entitled. Being restricted from working also impacts their skills and long term job prospects.

People can also be at risk of destitution at the point they are able to access public funds because of delays in receiving support. This includes newly recognised refugees, who have just 28 days to secure access to mainstream benefits or find work to support themselves before asylum support payments end. If they have been living in asylum accommodation, they have to move out of their accommodation and secure their own housing. This can cause destitution at the point that the UK Government has recognised that someone is a refugee who needs a place of safety.

The complexity of immigration rules and welfare eligibility means that many people are not aware of what support they are entitled to, their rights or how to access them. This includes people who are eligible for support through the UK asylum system and people who could apply to have their NRPF condition lifted.

People subject to NRPF are likely to have moved away from family and support networks when they came to the UK. While many people do come with their family or build strong social connections here through work or study, there can still be a high risk of isolation. This can limit people’s awareness of public services and support, including through the third sector. The support people access in crisis is often found through word of mouth or signposting and this is limited by the networks people have found or engage with.


Email: ScotlandsRefugeeStrategy@gov.scot

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