Citizens Advice reveals nearly 1.4m have no access to welfare safety net

By agency reporter
June 29, 2020

New research for Citizens Advice, conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, suggests that nearly 1.4 million people have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in the UK. This is an increase on previous estimates, based on 2016 data, which put the figure at 1.1 million.

NRPF rules mean tens of thousands of migrants – as well as their British family members – face difficult choices about returning to work: destitution, huge future costs relating to their immigration status and the prospect of loved ones being forced to leave the UK.

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt especially hard by people subject to these rules. The charity has seen a 110 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of people seeking help with NRPF during the pandemic. Since March 11, the day Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, Citizens Advice has helped someone every 20 minutes with NRPF.

The burden of NRPF restrictions falls disproportionately on people of colour – 82 per cent of people helped with this issue by the charity during the last year were Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic background. Of these, 32 per cent were Asian, 31 per cent were Black and 19 per cent were from another ethnic minority background.

Some people who have approached Citizens Advice for help with NRPF have faced the impossible choice of returning to work while ill, shielding, living with someone who is shielding or losing their income.

Despite the changes to the rules for people who are shielding in England, unless NRPF restrictions are lifted people will continue to face this dilemma. Return to work when they are ill or their workplace is not Covid-secure, and so risking their health or that of their household. Simply because they cannot access the welfare safety net.

Migrants from non-EEA countries are disproportionately likely to work in frontline roles, including in healthcare, care work and security jobs. Better support for people affected by these rules can support a safer easing of lockdown measures.

For some, the temporary hardship of coronavirus could have devastating long-term consequences. Those applying for leave to remain for spouses or family members are required to demonstrate a minimum income of £18,600 per annum. 

However, British citizens or settled persons who are made redundant or whose income as a self-employed person does not return to normal after 31 July may not be able to successfully renew their spouse or family member’s visa. This could mean families being separated because of a drop in income.

The charity is calling for:

  • The NRPF restriction for those subject to immigration control to be temporarily suspended
  • The Habitual Residence Test (HRT) to be temporarily suspended from the application process for benefits 
  • The minimum income requirement (of at least £18,600 per year) and the maintenance and accommodation requirements to be temporarily suspended for all those renewing family visas
  • All those on a five-year route to settlement whose income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic not to be moved onto a 10-year route because they cannot show minimum income.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The revelation that almost 1.4 million people have no recourse to public funds is shocking. Without the security of the welfare safety net, many have faced and will continue to face impossible choices concerning their health and that of their families.

“The government must suspend NRPF rules for the duration of the pandemic. People of colour have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Migrants who are overwhelmingly from Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic backgrounds backgrounds should not have to take unnecessary risks as lockdown is reduced. Anyone experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic should not see any impact on their long-term immigration status.

“The government has provided some measures to support people with NRPF, such as making them eligible for the Job Retention Scheme and providing emergency funding to councils. Despite this, we are seeing significant increases in the numbers of people seeking our help.”

Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have 'no recourse to public funds' if they are 'subject to immigration control'. This means that they are not entitled to most welfare benefits, including Universal Credit, child benefit, housing benefit, and a range of allowances and tax credits. It applies to most non-EEA migrants without Indefinite Leave to Remain.

* Citizens Advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

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