No recourse to public funds and homelessness

According to the NRPF network, a network of local authorities and partner organisations focusing on the statutory duties to migrants with care needs who have no recourse to public funds: “No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a condition imposed on someone due to their immigration status. Section 115 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have ‘no recourse to public funds’ if they are ‘subject to immigration control’”. In my community activist speciality, homelessness, NRPF is a big deal, since a number of the homeless folk I have dealings with are classed as NRPF.

On 28th October, Citizens Advice, Southend, laid on a day of free immigration training, focusing on EU Settled Status Scheme (EUSS) and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), and I was invited to attend. I was first thinking not to go given these days my activities are mostly on a voluntary basis and I would rather focus on what I can do and work within my limitations, but my arm was twisted and I was asked to join the panel of “experts” to give a homelessness perspective. I am glad in retrospect I did attend and I learned a lot, especially about EUSS and how to get it, as a means for homeless EU citizens to be able to access benefits etc., as well as listening to the experience of professionals and those helping on the ground.

The issue of immigration is a hotly debated one. I have sometimes found myself placed on the right of the debate, as I have argued we should restrict immigration. Going back to my early community activist days (around 2005), I found myself often supporting NRPF folk and for those who did not come from EU countries the associated issue of not being allowed to work. Often such folk, including many who claimed to be asylum seekers, sought to regularise their stay in the UK but such were the systemic hold ups this was a difficult with many barriers. At the same time, the UK were allowing more immigrants into the UK (more than they needed under EU directives) for purely economic reasons and this gave rise to some of the anger of those on the political right. I found myself being sympathetic to the “restrict economic immigration” argument yet believing successive governments (Labour and Conservative) have done a disservice to asylum seekers and neglected the plight of EU citizens in the UK who have fallen on hard times. From my own helping on the ground perspective, politics ought not even come into it and it is regrettable it does, given the all pervasive human need.

In more recent years, my community focus has been helping the homeless, even though some of the issues faced by asylum seekers remain. But I could not escape immigration as an issue given the number of foreigners who have not regularised their stay in the UK who are sleeping rough. Often accommodation is not available to such people, even by charities such as HARP, since that has to be paid for from benefits claimed from government. There are other restrictions too that also impacts quality of life of those affected. It is also, incidentally, an issue for UK citizens who because of their lifestyle and opting out of doing things the “system” required (often due to mental health and other issues), they cannot claim benefits.

My approach has been philosophical, despite recognising there is a human rights / social justice issue here. Often the NRPF folk I meet on the streets are quite stoical, whose main aim is simply to survive and that is where I concentrate my efforts. Yet the question is begged why a good many of them who could get EUSS don’t. For some, it is a matter of having lost their documentation, often the key to moving on, but often their needs are complex, including mental health and substance misuse, and for a variety of reasons returning to their country of origins is not an option. Like any group within society NRPF covers all sorts of people, good and bad, but most who I come across are courteous and grateful for the help me and my co-workers do provide. They are also vulnerable to exploitation.

If the above sounds rather cold and calculating, it is because it is for me a coping mechanism, mindful of the often underlying tragic and difficult circumstances. As far as I am concerned, I am now more aware of the networks that might help and the help that is available. I will continue to maintain my “I am not a case worker” position, but will continue to show compassion to my NRPF friends, mindful of my own limitations and the need to work together to find solutions.

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