No Recourse to Public Funds and Destitution
Some people with NRPF can experience prolonged periods of financial insecurity and homelessness. This is because restricted access to public funds removes the safety net which would normally help people in crisis to cope with short term periods of financial stress.
This is a very complex area of welfare law and the interactions between the reserved immigration rules and devolved policy and legislation can be challenging to navigate for individuals and those delivering services.
A wide range of people can be affected by NRPF conditions. The options and opportunities that they have to find a route out of destitution will depend on their specific circumstances and may require legal resolution. Individual circumstances which can increase the risk of destitution associated with NRPF status are explored further under Destitution Risk Factors.
Without savings or access to other funds to support them, people who are subject to NRPF can quickly become destitute if there is a change to their income or they cannot cover an essential cost. This can also put people at risk of entering or remaining in exploitative relationships or work, as their only means of accessing shelter or making a living. This makes destitution hidden and even more challenging to overcome.
What does NRPF restrict?
Someone with an NRPF restriction is not prevented from accessing all public money or support.
Public funds are defined in UK Immigration Rules and include housing and homelessness services provided by local authorities, universal credit, child benefit and payments from the Scottish Welfare Fund.
If someone with an NRPF condition accesses, or attempts to access restricted public funds, it can have an impact on any future application they make to remain in the UK.
“We are people. They look at us as though we are just a piece of paper. We are not paper.”
NRPF can also lead to an increased risk of race discrimination when people apply for public support or engage with public services. The discrimination risk can be caused by assumptions about immigration status and, therefore, presumptions about entitlement to services. Services may also be cautious of providing support in case this jeopardises someone’s immigration status.
How many people are destitute or at risk of destitution?
Destitution can happen suddenly, be difficult to predict and be hidden by other complex situations. There is no comprehensive data or analysis of this issue which makes it difficult to clearly identify the number of people experiencing or at risk of destitution.
UK statistics on NRPF are not available because the Home Office does not capture the number of people who have an NRPF condition applied to them or monitor how many people with an NRPF condition are in the UK at any one time.
Population statistics cannot estimate the number of people at risk of destitution, but they can help to estimate how many people are likely to be subject to NRPF. There are 388,000 non-UK nationals living in Scotland or about 7.2% of the population. Of these, 154,000 are non-EU nationals, representing nearly 3% of the population. 70,000 non-EU nationals are in employment in Scotland, accounting for 2.6% of the workforce, but the employment rate for non-EU nationals (aged 16 – 64) is only 56.1%. People in this age range who are not in employment will include international students and people who are the primary carer for their children or other relatives.
At any time in the past ten years the average number of people seeking asylum living in Scotland and in receipt of Home Office support, because they would otherwise be destitute, has been around 5,000. Nearly all live in Glasgow.
The 2019 From Pillar to Post research report estimated that there could be around 1,000 people who have been refused asylum and are at risk of destitution in Scotland.
If someone receives public funds which are restricted under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, this may impact future applications to stay in the UK because it is a breach of their leave conditions. As a result, people may also avoid engaging with any public services and decline support, in case it impacts future applications for leave to remain.
Support services can be inaccessible for people subject to NRPF because of the complexity of systems, difficulties accessing information or lack of awareness that public services exist and can offer support. Some people may be fearful of interacting with support providers due to negative perceptions of how they will be treated (by the service or other people in the community if they receive support). People can also be faced with a language barrier and struggle to access translation and interpreting. As a result, seeking support from public services can be a last resort at a time of crisis, by which point people need higher levels of support.
Changes in policy, the labour market and the economy can significantly affect people subject to NRPF and increase the risk of people facing destitution. For example, changes in immigration policy at UK level can affect the number of people who are subject to NRPF and the support that is available to them. Changes in the labour market may limit the availability of sustainable and well paid employment, while changes in the economy may increase the cost of living.
What about European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals?
Until 2021, NRPF only applied to non-EEA nationals. EEA nationals were not subject to immigration control as part of free movement within the EU.
After 31 December 2020, free movement of persons between the UK and the EEA ended. EEA nationals who were in the UK before the end of free movement can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) in the UK until 30 June 2021. If they have been in the UK for less than five years they can be granted pre-settled status, which effectively protects their free movement rights for five years, or until they are eligible for settled status. If they have been in the UK for five years or more they may be granted settled status. People with pre-settled or settled status are not subject to NRPF. However, people with pre-settled status will continue to need to meet habitual residency test.
From 2021, anyone arriving from the EU without EUSS status will be subject to immigration control and therefore may have NRPF conditions imposed on them in the same way as other migrants.
The UK officially left the EU in January 2020, entering a transition period up to 31 December 2020. EEA and Swiss national citizens’ rights are protected in the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU. EEA nationals should see no significant changes in their access to benefits at the end of transition and have until the end of June 2021 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Following application to the EUSS, those granted settled status will have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, while those granted pre-settled status will have their freedom of movement rights protected for five years, at which point they can apply for settled status. People with settled or pre-settled status will not be subject to NRPF. EEA nationals arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 will be subject to immigration control and therefore NRPF restrictions, unless there is variation to visa conditions established through any trade agreements.
The UK’s exit from the EU is expected to impact negatively on the Scottish economy. Lack of certainty can have a significant impact on business decisions, investment and jobs. This not only affects EEA nationals living in Scotland, but people across Scotland’s communities, including people subject to NRPF.
Local authorities have statutory duties to provide support to families with children and adults with care needs, regardless of their immigration status. Assistance from local authorities can include financial support, help with housing costs, along with wider welfare and social work support.
In 2020 COSLA undertook a snapshot survey into the direct support Scottish local authorities provided in the previous 12 months to people with NRPF and EEA nationals, who were destitute and in need of assistance under statutory duties associated with safeguarding or public health. The survey estimated that up to 500 people with NRPF received support from local authorities. Approximately half of those supported were children under 18. The majority of households receiving assistance were from outside the EEA, although many local authorities also reported increasing numbers of people from within the EEA who may have had insecure status and difficulty accessing support. The costs of providing support can be prohibitively high. For example, in the snapshot survey, one council recorded a spend of over £1 million in the first half of the financial year 2019-20 alone, to meet emergency accommodation costs.
It is important to note that data captured by the snapshot survey is not routinely collected and is based on data from nine local authorities. There are also variations in the way support is recorded, with a number of local authorities calculating their support based on the number of households, while others calculate based on the number of individuals. It is therefore not possible to provide a reliable and consistent overall figure.
Local authority powers to provide assistance are limited and some people remain excluded under immigration rules. Adults with NRPF in particular may have no entitlements to support and often have to reply on support from the third sector and community organisations.
Implications for Local Authorities
The NRPF Network captures data across the UK, which can help to support understanding of the implications of NRPF policy for local authority budgets and services at a macro level.
This data is gathered from 59 local authorities across the UK, including four in Scotland. Analysis based on the number of households with NRPF that requested support from local authorities in Scotland and England during the financial year 2019-20 found that 2,450 households were supported over the year at a cost of £44 million. Accommodation and financial support costs were on average £17,887 per year for a household.
Over the same timeframe, the number of requests for support increased by 11% from the previous year. The average length of time a household received support was just over two years.
The majority of people with NRPF who receive support from local authorities are eventually granted access to public funds by the UK Government and have their right to be in the UK recognised. A significant number of people who are not eligible for local authority support also ultimately have access to public funds granted by the UK Government.
Third sector and community-based organisations can provide support to meet the needs of destitute people with NRPF. Depending on the source of funding and any associated conditions, third sector organisations can make their own decisions about who is eligible for their support and extend services to people who are not eligible for statutory support. Across Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the North-East, the community-based provision of crisis grants, shelter, advocacy and support services has developed through civic society networks and infrastructure to help people to access safe places to stay, food and navigate their support services.
For some, the third sector is their only source of support. There are challenges for people in this position, in particular consistency in support available (including due to finite funding available, reliance on donations and time-limited projects) and that support for essential needs does not resolve underlying status issues or the cause of destitution.
Any form of support which someone with NRPF accesses, whether statutory or charitable, may impact on an application to the Home Office to lift NRPF or their support options. For example, someone who has applied for NRPF to be lifted on grounds of imminent destitution may be assessed as not at risk if they are considered to have some form of support income. For people seeking asylum, the financial support they receive from the Home Office may be suspended or reduced if they are thought to have a source of income.