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Pressure mounts on Patel to end immigration rules blocking migrants accessing housing

LOCAL councils are urging the Home Secretary to rethink immigration policies that block migrants from accessing public housing, as thousands face being forced back onto the streets. 

Dozens of local authorities in London have written to Priti Patel, warning that the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) rule risks “the unthinkable tragedy” of rough sleeping rising during the pandemic. 

It prevents some migrants accessing the majority of welfare benefits or local authority assisted housing and has been blamed for driving families into destitution and hunger during the Covid-19 crisis.

As part of the Everybody In scheme to house rough sleepers during the pandemic, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick informed councils that the NRPF rules would not apply, allowing destitute migrants to be put up in emergency accommodation.

But councils have warned that moving these people into long-term accommodation will be “impossible” if the Home Office does not lift the rules on a long-term basis. 

The letter, which was published in a report by the Independent, states: “As it stands, all restrictions are due to come back into force in the near future, creating a cliff edge beyond which councils will once again be prevented from providing many rough sleepers with the housing and other support they need.

“Without urgent action to address these issues we risk facing the unthinkable tragedy of rough sleeping going back up even while the threat of Covid-19 remains.”

It follows a call by over 100 rights groups, lawyers and councillors urging local authorities to actively lobby the Home Office to scrap NRPF.  

Numerous councils have heeded the call including Oxford, Islington, Newham, Ealing and Hackney. 

Ealing Council, which has had one of the biggest spikes in rough sleeping with an increase of 78 per cent during the crisis, has proposed that those affected by NRPF should be offered refugee status. 

Councillor Peter Mason said: “We urgently need a change in government policy to allow us to intervene with this group in the long term. 

“Housing is only one of the problems they face, and granting them Covid-19 refugee status would allow us to offer in-depth support to these people, many of whom have extremely complex needs.”

In early June Ms Patel rejected calls to suspend NRPF rules, insisting that local authorities provide a “basic safety net” through other measures introduced during the pandemic. 

A government spokesperson said:

“We have been very clear that nobody should find themselves destitute during this crisis due to circumstances beyond their control.

“Our rough sleeping taskforce has one objective – to ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return to sleeping rough, which is why we’ve ensured councils can provide emergency accommodation for foreign nationals where they are in the UK lawfully.

“Families with leave under family and human rights routes can apply, free of charge, to have no recourse to public funds conditions lifted and we encourage anyone eligible to submit an application. We have also taken extensive action to support those with these conditions, such as rent protections and allocating £750 million for charities to support the most vulnerable.”


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