With the days getting colder and damper, it’s the time of year when concerns over rough sleeping intensify among local councils and homelessness charities.
But councils and charity groups have also become drawn into a battle with the Home Office over one of its recent, post-Brexit changes to immigration policy that many find unacceptable – a new law to facilitate the deportation of foreigners found sleeping rough in the UK from 1 December.
Many of them have now joined in signing a letter that represents 150 councils, charities and law firms who are calling on the Home Office to scrap the policy on the grounds that it’s likely to harm vulnerable people, such as those made unemployed and destitute during the coronavirus pandemic, those escaping domestic or gang violence, or at risk of people trafficking.
On 1 December, Haringey Council said in a tweet: “We won’t collaborate with the Home Office on today’s immigration rule change. Rough sleeping is now grounds for refusal of permission to stay for some non-UK nationals. We oppose this, believe it is discriminatory, and will do all in our power to protect the most vulnerable.”
The number of rough sleepers has risen during the pandemic and more recently since the end of the government’s ‘Everyone In’ temporary housing scheme, which ran during the first lockdown. The charity Crisis currently estimates that around 200,000 will be homeless across England over the Christmas period.
Increases in the numbers of rough sleepers have included many who have had the right to stay but are under the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy, which puts them at risk of homelessness if becoming unemployed.
Presented as part of an overhaul of immigration laws in October, the government announced the new rule which would revoke the right of non-UK nationals to stay in the UK if found to be sleeping rough, but adding that the rule would only be applied ‘sparingly’ in recognition of its sensitivity.
The number of rough sleepers has risen during the pandemic and more recently since the end of the government’s ‘Everyone In’ temporary housing scheme, which ran during the first lockdown.
Nonetheless, the charity Housing Workers has urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan and local authorities not to allow some types of data sharing with the Home Office such as access to council databases holding information on foreign nationals in emergency hotel provision.
Anti-slavery groups such as Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) and the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) point out that the policy is likely to exacerbate pressures on the people most vulnerable to trafficking and goes against efforts to end modern slavery.
Modern slavery victims may become homeless when fleeing exploitation, and may spend periods sleeping rough. And lack of access to support and safe housing means many may end up homeless even when identified as slavery victims, explains FLEX.
It adds that many low-paid migrants without access to public funds would also be susceptible to exploitation if destitution and homelessness becomes a cause for deportation.
Modern slavery victims may become homeless when fleeing exploitation, and may spend periods sleeping rough.
Legal associations have also condemned the policy as breaching the European Convention of Human Rights as well as pushing the vulnerable towards trafficking or forced prostitution.
In 2017, the Home Office sought to introduce a similar policy trying to argue that foreign rough sleepers were ‘abusing’ EU freedom of movement law, which was successfully challenged by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC.)PILC is now seeking to legally challenge the policy again on humanitarian grounds and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to assist with this. At time of writing this had reached £20,475.