The Migrant Child with no Recourse to Public Funds

I am grateful for this guest post by Hal Fish who is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors that help migrant families regulate their immigration status.

Whilst there are numerous issues that affect and damage the many migrant families of the UK, the welfare of migrant children is a profoundly troubling matter which continues to be overlooked in mainstream media. Migrant children are being thrown into a state of vulnerability due to the immigration status of their parents. Street homelessness, poverty and other forms of dejection are rampant issues for these children as they grow up without access to the same public funding as those with British Citizenship.

The main reason causing this problem is the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition. Coming from theImmigration and Asylum Act 1999, the clause states that if a person is ‘subject to immigration control’ they will have ‘no recourse to public funds’.Without standard routes to public funding, the only support left to the children of migrant families can be found in Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act. This act places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children ‘in need’ in their area. This one source of provision has become a safety net for underprivileged migrant families; sadly, however, the children keep slipping through the many gaps of that net.

It seems that the government’s commitment to creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants is being prioritised over the commitment to providing safe living conditions for children in need. The Home Office have shifted their responsibility to support these children onto local authorities. However, pressures of austerity and other budgetary restrictions have left such authorities reluctant to provide financial support. With these limitations in mind, tactics such as misinformation, intimidation and unfair judgements on credibility are being employed by local authorities as to withhold their funds from impoverished migrant families.

It was found by Project 17, an organisation working with migrants fixed in the NRPF condition, that 60 percent of its clients were wrongly refused assistance when they initially contacted their local authority. On top of this, 22 percent of families were wrongly refused support on the basis of their immigration status. Habitually the reasoning for these refusals are arbitrary and baseless, often decisions are made before assessment is even conducted. Many families have been incorrectly informed that by requesting support under section 17 they were trying to claim ‘public funds’, whilst others have been told they can only be supported if they have leave to remain in the UK. One of the main problems is that local authorities seem much more concerned with trying to catch parents out for fraud as opposed to actually assessing the considerable needs of the children.

And even when support is granted, there is no statutory guidance on the rates of financial support provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This means that there is no set figure to determine exactly how much money families should be given. Different children have different needs, and therefore discretion should be used when judging just how much financial aid should be offered to each case – for instance, some children will have greater medical bills. But regardless, families with NRPF are overwhelmingly in need of basic level of financial support as to provide accommodation, food and other essentials for their children. Yet the Children’s Society found that some families received lower than the asylum support rate of £36.50 per person per week – a figure nowhere near the level required to alleviate destitution and one in breach of human rights law.

A report by Project 17, spoke to children living with NRPF and found that 41 percent of them felt unsafe as they were ‘homeless’, ‘moving around a lot’, ‘living with people they did not know’, ‘uncertain about their housing situation’, and ‘travelling long distances to school’. It’s clear that not enough is being done to keep these children safe and supported. Social worker and researcher Andy Jolly brought home this point when he recently said: ‘the death by starvation of Lillian Oluk and her daughter Lynne Mutumba in March 2016, while being supported by a local authority under section 17 of the Children Act (1989), illustrates the consequences of inadequate support for undocumented migrant families in the hostile environment.’

Worryingly, there is very little evidence to suggest a change in the Home Office’s or local authorities’ approach to families with the NRPF condition. Yet the number of families requiring support under section 17 has steadily been rising for years now: between 2012 and 2013 it rose by 19 percent. To exacerbate troubles, the Home Office have proposed cuts to asylum support contained in the Immigration Bill 2015. Which means, if passed, the number of children who rely on section 17 will increase as there will be even less financial support for them from other means. And rules such as those contained in the Immigration Act 2014, which limit rented accommodation to those migrants who have the ‘right to rent’, will lead to homelessness amongst migrant families; once more creating a greater need for section 17 support.

Ultimately, while section 17 support does provide a thin layer of protection for thousands of children in the UK, it does not offer enough. With minimal guidance given on how assessment should be made, and support administered, there is too much reliance on the discretion of local authorities; who often work with other (namely financial) concerns prioritised. There must be more done to fight against the harrowing circumstances and impoverished lifestyle that these vulnerable children are being exposed to. It is imperative that the government implements a consistent and adequate structure of support for migrant families living with the NRPF condition; one which is capable of offering the necessary level of provision for the children overwhelmingly in need.

 

Further Reading

Financial and Housing Advice.

Hackney Migrant Centre guide to section 17 – The guide contains information, advice and guidance gathered from those who have experience of seeking this kind of support. The guide covers an explanation of section 17 support, the child in need assessment, what support might look like, what happens if support is refused and a helpful evidence checklist. The guide also contains signposting to partner drop-in’s and immigration advice sources.

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Migrant Child with no Recourse to Public Funds

  1. Mystykyn

    Ugh.
    This one is very difficult and Councillors share all the common misconceptions in this area. Particularly if there is an election in the offing and if you are carrying a housing waiting list with 800 names on it and many of them have a strong local connection and have been waiting years – and this is regardless of the colour of their rosette.
    A long serving district councillor has a very good chance of knowing them as their wards are smaller than a county division and that makes it worse.
    The worst are that first of all they conflate these genuine children, with genuine needs, with the fit young men of military age who come here claiming to be children. The second is the perception that a child is sent on ahead, unaccompanied, on the basis that he (rarely a girl) will be accommodated and then the entire family can piggyback on the child’s claim.
    Life in local government would be so much easier without the Daily Depress and the Daily Wail. And local rags are sheer poison….

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  2. Angelo Granda

    A Parent’s View.

    It is essential that lawyers and decision-makers GET TO GRIPS with the matter of fundamental human rights and that they uphold them for everyone,citizen or immigrant.
    Immigrants include, due to inhumanities inflicted upon them abroad,refugees in dire need usually destitute people both young and old.
    I would say that it is wrong for Local Authorities to discriminate against any person within their area. In fact, civil rights such as those granted under section 17 of the Children Act must be upheld by Local Authorities without discrimination of any kind.It is for the Government to make decisions on immigration issues ,for example, whether a person is in the country legally or illegally and it is the Government’s duty to deport those people it feels are ‘illegals’. These are not decisions for Local Authorities who should be forced to provide assistance as per the Act.Whilst refugees or immigrants are in the country, they are subject to normal human rights law.
    Once we withdraw or compromise civil rights, we start to contravene international ,common human rights in that we are degrading certain classes of people. By denying fundamental civil rights,we contravene human rights, in a nutshell.
    Children Act assistance and support must not be withheld on political grounds or behind-closed doors decisions based on prejudices or bias of any kind.
    I do agree with Mystyken, it is not right that Councillors should allow electoral issues or budgetary issues to affect civil or human rights . Like Mystyken, I also recognise how much easier it would be for them to do so were there no free press and no protesting organisations of legals such as the post-authors.
    Long live freedom and liberty .God forbid they ever be taken away from us as they so often are in extremist states.
    All of us should be treated equally and refugees are really in need of help.What a shame that the Act only applies to children in need In my view, to start to help children , we have to re-unite families as a priority and offer assistance to the Mums and Dads too.Children should never be parted from their families.Or are the L.A’s and SW’s going to blame the parents for being forced into becoming refugees and part children from them trumpishly.
    Men should not be discriminated against just because they are of military age. How many of us would give a false age to escape a bullet in the head? These families do not choose to flee, they are forced to.

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  3. Angelo Granda

    The main problem is the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) clause of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
    How can it possibly not contravene Article 3 ( ECHR)?

    All immigrants not only refugees are MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC even those awaiting decisions on applications for asylum etc. wherever they come from and it should go without saying that members of the PUBLIC are fully entitled to access PUBLIC funds without discrimination. Also they should be allowed to work without discrimination. Public Funding decisions ,when dealing with our fellow HUMAN BEINGS must be made on the needs of vulnerable children and their families.
    We should not forget that destitute families seeking asylum flee here in desperation to escape contravention of their human rights in their mother countries. How shocked they must be to get to ‘safety’ only to find their human rights mean nothing here either?
    The clause breaks all the normally accepted rules of humanity such as age-old ones pertaining to hospitality and succour. Strangers and travellers are treated as guests ( even better than locals). They certainly should not be stopped from earning a living thus be condemned to destitution whilst here.
    As far as section 17, Children Act is concerned ,Local Authority officials should be trained properly and taught morals ,in particular the lesson of the Good Samaritan.
    They have a duty to provide housing for the homeless and destitute without discrimination. If they have a waiting list as high as 400 families, they have already failed,haven’t they? I f they can’t build houses fast enough due to their own failures ,there is an easy answer. Replace them with others who will do the job properly. Obtain land ( by compulsory purchase if necessary) and BUILD! If they can’t do it quick enough, house people in temporary prefabs or even Nissen huts as we did just after the second world war.

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  4. Angelo Granda

    As an indicator to readers of common human rights and the treatment of immigrants and refugees even before the ECHR convention was set up and made law; in the twentieth century many of them were denied dual citizenship and officially designated as enemy aliens during the war. There is the Geneva convention to be satisfied even with prisoners of war too ,isn’t there?
    The aliens were not sent into destitution and made to walk the streets to be ignored and persecuted by Local Authorities and the general population; they were interned in camps and isolated in places like the Isle of Man in sheltered,humane conditions. They were also given work.
    Prisoners of war were also given shelter,warmth and a basic menu in camps.The men were also allowed to work daily, in fact they were obliged to help on the land and contribute to the war effort.
    Everyone has fundamental human rights which transcend our rights to discourage immigration .

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