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Public-fund policy may get rethink

05 June 2020

No recourse to public funds prevents migrants who have not yet been granted permanent residency in the UK from receiving benefits

iStock

THE Children’s Society has welcomed the Prime Minister’s apparent questioning of the fairness of his Government’s policy concerning no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

NRPF prevents migrants who have not yet been granted permanent residency in the UK from receiving benefits such as Universal Credit, tax credits, and child and housing benefits.

At a virtual meeting of the Liaison Committee on Wednesday of last week, the chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, the Labour MP Stephen Timms, a former chairman of Christians on the Left, asked Mr Johnson about the policy.

Mr Timms spoke of a family in his constituency from Pakistan: the husband’s employer had not put him on the Job Retention Scheme, and so he had no income, and the income from his wife’s job was less than their household rent.

“They have leave to remain in the UK, but no recourse to public funds; so they can’t get any help at all,” Mr Timms said. “Isn’t it unfair that a hard-working, law-abiding family like that is being forced by the current arrangements into destitution?”

Mr Johnson appeared initially to be perplexed, asking why the family were not eligible for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance. Mr Timms explained that NRPF meant that “at the moment, they can get no help at all.”

Mr Johnson responded: “Clearly . . . people who’ve worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another. . . I will find out how many there are in that position, and we will see what we can do to help.”

The Children’s Society is campaigning for NRPF to be suspended during the pandemic (News, 1 May). Its chief executive, Mark Russell, said on Thursday of last week: “Thank you to the Prime Minister asking the crucial question: why aren’t hard-working people who have leave to remain in this country eligible for crucial support like Universal Credit? People who work hard for our country should have access to support of one kind or another during these difficult times, which is why we are calling for a suspension to the NRPF condition.

“Our research at the Children’s Society has shown that many of those who have NRPF are working in frontline roles during the Covid-19 crisis — as NHS cleaners, in social care or food preparation — but have no support to rely on when they are most in need. We welcome the PM’s offer to find out how many are affected, as current Home Office data gathering on this is limited, though we estimate that more than 100,000 children could be affected.

“We will be writing to the Prime Minister about this issue, and look forward to his response.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also urged the Government to review NRPF. The Politics Home website reported on Monday that Mr Khan had written to Mr Johnson: “Despite their contribution to London’s society and economy, tens of thousands of Londoners struggle without support as a result of the NRPF condition, including key workers such as delivery drivers, cleaners, carers and NHS staff.

“Londoners with NRPF are facing homelessness, are denied access to Universal Credit support when they lose their income, and their children are refused access to child-related benefits.”

In an article published on Politics Home on Monday, Mr Timms wrote: “At the beginning of April, the Home Office published an online form to allow people to apply for exemption from the condition [of NRPF]. It is onerous, demands voluminous evidence which is difficult to provide, and requires expert help to complete. . .

“Last month, in a challenge brought by an eight-year-old British boy and supported by the Unity Project, the High Court ruled that the policy is unlawful, and in breach of basic human rights. The decision was that the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition should be lifted when a family is clearly heading for destitution, as well as when they are actually destitute. We await the details of the Home Office’s response, though it appears it will not appeal.

“Two months ago, the Home Secretary told me that her department was working with others ‘at pace’ to consider how the No Recourse to Public Funds policy should be applied during the crisis.

“One month ago, Michael Gove told me it was ‘under review’. But nothing has changed — and more and more law-abiding, hard-working families, whose contributions we have all benefited from for years, are sinking into destitution.

“The Prime Minister is right that they should have ‘support of one kind or another’. I hope he will now act quickly to suspend No Recourse to Public Funds for the duration of the crisis.”

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