For too long, homelessness staff have been desperate for solutions for clients facing immigration-based restrictions. They have been caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to deliver inclusive and welcoming services, but constrained and exasperated by funding requirements, confusing entitlements and counter-productive legal exclusions.
Today Homeless Link launches a briefing, Facing up to homelessness among non-UK nationals: the challenge and opportunity since ‘Everyone In’, to make the case for the inclusion of people with immigration-based eligibility restrictions in mainstream homelessness systems, for good. It provides an overview of what is known and what has changed for non-UK national homelessness and highlights priority action areas for local government and homelessness organisations.
Non-UK nationals with restricted eligibility for public funds made up a significant proportion of people accommodated under ‘Everyone In’. This isn’t surprising given that they faced some of the worst consequences of the pandemic and non-UK nationals have been disproportionately represented in rough sleeping figures for years.
Despite its limitations, Everyone In prompted new ways of doing things. Homelessness organisations reported impressive progress in helping previously excluded people to regularise their status, unlock their entitlements, and move on from homelessness. Now local authorities must learn from this and, alongside the sector, show leadership by integrating provision for non-UK nationals into their strategies and Rough Sleeping Initiative plans for 2022-25.
The briefing outlines a range of measures for homelessness commissioners to consider, including:
- addressing gatekeeping and confusion via investment in staff training, quality language interpreting and working hand-in-hand with local community groups;
- commissioning and embedding independent immigration advice across homelessness prevention and response settings;
- unlocking longer term accommodation solutions in partnership with local faith and voluntary sector organisations and housing associations and;
- developing clear, transparent policies to govern the sharing of client data with the Home Office.
We have also published a series of five case studies describing local responses to non-UK national homelessness since COVID-19. The case studies describe an immigration advice partnership in Lewisham, partnership approaches to supporting EUSS applications in Reading and Bradford, a council-led strategic approach in Islington and a voluntary sector accommodation partnership in Oxfordshire. They show what can be done, despite the structural and legal barriers in place.
Of course, sustainable solutions cannot be found at the local level alone.
The latest messaging from Government to local authorities is a small step forward. It clarifies public health powers can be used to accommodate people with restricted eligibility during the ongoing pandemic. It will undoubtedly have real benefits in areas that were holding back due to legal uncertainty.
However, it falls short of addressing the elephant in the room: plans to end rough sleeping will not succeed without adjusting the constraints on statutory support and benefits and increasing access to immigration advice in the longer-term. Homelessness and local government sectors must continue to advocate for reform and leadership from Government to address the incoherence between homelessness commitments and restrictive policies motivated by immigration control and to work towards manageable long-term solutions.