Councils spending millions supporting families with no recourse to public funds

Councils are spending millions of pounds every year helping vulnerable families whose immigration status means they are not eligible to receive most public funds, MPs have been told.

Local authorities are providing people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) access to accommodation, and funds for things such as food, bills, bus passes, prescriptions and glasses.

People whose immigration status has not yet been finalised, or whose status is subject to the condition, are ineligible for a range of benefits, social housing support and homelessness assistance, barring some exceptions.

But they can be eligible for some services from councils, who have certain legal duties such as the requirement to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need under section 17 of the Children’s Act.

Councillor Jasmine Ali, deputy leader of Southwark Council, said the south London borough is spending £6 million a year supporting families with NRPF – with the majority going on housing.

She told the Work and Pensions Committee that the council is supporting 130 mainly single-parent families, including 220 children.

The typical turnover is around two years but some families can be waiting for longer, she said.

Manchester City Council spent more than a million pounds on accommodation and subsistence payments for families with NRPF during the last financial year, the MPs were told.

Over 2020, it supported 318 adults and children. The average time a household was supported was 633 days – almost two years.

The session heard that the City of Wolverhampton council paid more than £400,000 in the last financial year, including £121,000 in staffing costs, supporting 40 families. It is currently supporting 33 families.

Council staff told MPs how they are having to provide people subject to the NRPF condition with more expensive, lower quality private accommodation because they are not eligible for social housing.

They also said that there is poor communication with Home Office officials which means that councils are having to support people for longer “and at a huge, huge cost”.

Christianah Awodiji, NRPF team manager at Manchester Local Care Organisation, said councils are experiencing “enormous difficulties” due to the impact on their finances and a lack of legal advice for families.

Another main challenge is accommodation, she said, adding: “Local authorities are scrambling for accommodation to provide for NRPF households who are excluded from homelessness assistance because of the NRPF condition attached to the visa.

“And that is not easy, because often what we have to do is look to the private sector. Again, that comes with a lot of other issues in terms of housing condition, and the standard of the accommodation, again, cost in the private rented section is huge, and forever increasing. And again, the local authority have to bear that cost.”

She said the council also struggles to have direct contact with Home Office officials to raise concerns about children in NRPF households, calling this “really difficult”.

She added: “If we cannot, as a local authority, if we cannot have that dialogue with colleagues from the Home Office, then it means that we’re having to support NRPF households with children, we’re having to support them much longer, and again, at a huge, huge cost to the Local Authority budget.”

Azmina Siddique, policy and research manager at the Children’s Society, said parents have told of how their children have skipped meals, they cannot afford school uniform or transportation.

She added that almost every family the charity helps has faced insecure housing or homelessness, and the majority are single parent families headed up by mothers.

One parent told the charity that he finds excuses not to take his son into school on days when there are school trips, because he does not want him to feel different from his peers.

She said: “This all really paints a picture of a very unstable childhood for many children without access to the resources that they need, and it has a huge impact on their emotional wellbeing.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The provision of no recourse to public funds has been upheld by successive governments and maintains that those coming to the UK should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer.

“There are safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable migrants who are destitute and have community care needs, including issues relating to human rights or the wellbeing of children, can receive support.”

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