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Migrant homelessness in London and ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’

Jacqui Broadhead discusses the impact of 'No Recourse to Public Funds' on the lives of migrants in London and how one council has addressed the issue
17.7
No Recourse to Public Funds is an immigration condition. And it applies to two groups of people who are subject to immigration controls– so either those who have entered the UK unlawfully, or had a visa and they’ve overstayed it. But it also applies to a group of people who have a visa, but it’s subject to No Recourse to Public Funds condition. And that condition is a restriction on the type of mainstream welfare benefits that a person can access. And that’s why local government comes in, because there’s a piece of social services legislation called Section 17 of the Children Act, which is about how you provide support to children.
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And if children are at risk of destitution because their parents can’t access those benefits, local government has a responsibility to step in to provide accommodation and subsistence. But they receive no funding from the central government to do that. So it’s an important safety net that can prevent street homelessness for children that’s the responsibility of local government rather than national government.
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So Islington is generally thought of as being quite an affluent, leafy, inner London borough. But that hides quite a lot of inequality. It has very high level of child poverty, one of the highest levels in the country. And the local authority there, as a result of that, have a number of priorities around tackling poverty and inequality. They have a corporate priority around fairness for tackling the very high levels of child poverty. Islington is also a very diverse area. So 33% of the population was born overseas. And that compares with about 14% of the population nationally. So there are also challenges and opportunities around community cohesion.
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And having population with the NRPF condition, who are excluded from public services, might make it harder for the local authority to achieve those aims. So for example, if they’re not finding people coming to them for services, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to kind of support children, to tackle the levels of child poverty, also if people just aren’t able to access lots of services. So the No Recourse to Public Funds condition is only for welfare benefits. But because it’s called public funds, there’s often quite a bit of confusion.
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So people think that they can’t access services, all kinds of public services like libraries and community centres, which there are no restrictions on, but they may think that they are not eligible for.
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Islington made a decision that they wanted to recognise that this was a vital safety net, even though they didn’t receive any funding. And that’s in contrast to the approach of some other areas that also have high numbers of No Recourse to Public Funds families. So, for example, some boroughs have taken what’s called a “fraud first” approach, where they have placed immigration officers in their social services offices to reduce instances of, or perceptions of instances of, fraud within the service. Islington decided that they wanted to continue to be rigorous in making sure that they applied the criteria as to who was eligible. And they definitely wanted to get value for money, because they don’t get money from central government.
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But the way that they decided to do that was that once people had been granted support, they worked to reduce the amount of time that they were on that support, rather than reducing the number of people necessarily. So about 75% of their caseload is granted leave to remain ultimately. But it takes quite a long time for that to happen, so they worked with the home office to try to reduce that. They also worked on those cases that were turned down in some cases on Assisted Voluntary Return. And then the second part of what they did was around thinking about the children as well as the parents.
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So Section 17 of the Children Act has a focus on the child, but a lot of the provision is around the adult’s immigration status. So Islington partnered with a local funder and charity called Islington Giving on something called The Catalyst Fund, which was about looking at the things that could promote the well-being of the child that they might not have access to because of their parent’s immigration status. And they funded different type– or just because the parents not having the funds. So that was swimming lessons, piano lessons, and that type of thing.
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One child wanted to become a politician, so wanted to have a tour of the Houses of Parliament– so things that really focused on the children’s needs and welfare. And the last thing that they did was based on some research that colleagues at COMPAS had done that identified nationally that these provisions were not well understood. So people had rights, but they didn’t fully understand them, and a lot of the social workers didn’t understand them. So they worked with COMPAS and with a web designer to make an online tool that makes it easier for social workers and for the families themselves to put in all of the information and then help them to find out what services they were eligible for.
Interview with Jacqui Broadhead, COMPAS, Oxford University (UK)
We asked Jacqui the following three questions:
  1. What does ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) mean in the UK immigration and social services context?
  2. What effects does the No Recourse to Public Funds condition have on families and communities in the London Borough of Islington?
  3. What approaches have been taken to support these families in Islington?
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