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Immigration: no recourse to public funds

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 18th June 2020.

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“Section 3(1)(c)(i) and (ii) of the Immigration Act 1971 cannot be applied to persons who have lost rights because of section (1)

This new clause seeks to delay application of No Recourse to Public Funds rules during the current pandemic and until such time as Parliament decides.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 56—Recourse to public funds—

“(1) For the purpose of this section, a person (“P”) is defined as any person who, immediately before the commencement of Schedule 1, was—

(a) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016;

(b) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with a right conferred by or under any of the other instruments which is repealed by Schedule 1; or

(c) otherwise residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with any right derived from European Union law which continues, by virtue of section 4 of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, to be recognised and available in domestic law after exit day.

(2) Regulations under section 4(1) may not be made until the Government has brought forward legislative measures to ensure that P can access social security benefits, where P is habitually resident, including repealing or amending the following provisions insofar as they relate to P—

(a) section 3(1)(c)(ii) of the Immigration Act 1971;

(b) section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

(c) any provision in subordinate legislation, which imposes a “no recourse to public funds” condition on grants of limited leave to enter or remain; and

(d) any other enactment or power exercised under any other enactment, which makes immigration status a condition to access social security benefits.”

This new clause seeks to restrict measures prohibiting recourse to public funds.

New clause 59—Analysis of exemption from no recourse to public funds condition—

“(1) The Secretary State must produce a report on the impact of no recourse to public funds conditions for those who meet the criteria in subsection (2).

(2) The report under subsection (1) must include the impact on EEA and Swiss nationals—

(a) with children;

(b) with pre-settled status; and

(c) who are victims of domestic abuse.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a public fund is defined as any of the following:

(a) attendance allowance;

(b) carer’s allowance;

(c) child benefit;

(d) child tax credit;

(e) council tax benefit;

(f) council tax reduction;

(g) disability living allowance;

(h) discretionary support payments by local authorities or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund;

(i) housing and homelessness assistance;

(j) housing benefit;

(k) income-based jobseeker’s allowance;

(l) income related employment and support allowance (ESA);

(m) income support;

(n) personal independence payment;

(o) severe disablement allowance;

(p) social fund payment;

(q) state pension credit;

(r) universal credit;

(s) working tax credit; and

(t) Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).

(4) For the purposes of this section—

“domestic abuse” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;

“victim” includes the dependent child of a person who is a victim of domestic abuse.”

This new clause will require the Government to consider the impact of no recourse to public funds exemption.

New clause 62—Recourse to public funds: EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants—

“(1) EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants under the age of 18 must be exempt from any no recourse to public funds condition that would otherwise be placed on them under Immigration Rules.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a public fund is defined as any of the following—

(a) attendance allowance;

(b) carer’s allowance;

(c) child benefit;

(d) child tax credit;

(e) council tax benefit;

(f) council tax reduction;

(g) disability living allowance;

(h) discretionary support payments by local authorities or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund;

(i) housing and homelessness assistance;

(j) housing benefit;

(k) income-based jobseeker’s allowance;

(l) income related employment and support allowance (ESA);

(m) income support;

(n) personal independence payment;

(o) severe disablement allowance;

(p) social fund payment;

(q) state pension credit;

(r) universal credit;

(s) working tax credit; or

(t) Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).”

This new clause would allow EEA nationals and Swiss nationals with children under the age of 18 to access public funds.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. In tabling new clauses 45 and 56, my party wants to set out our opposition to how the no recourse to public funds regime is working, both in general and specifically during the current covid crisis. We think it is having some drastic effects, and therefore refuse to extend it to EEA nationals during the current public health crisis, or indeed more generally. Of course, we urge the Government to go further by also disapplying NRPF rules in relation to other migrants.

Because of this Bill, any EEA migrants coming to the UK under the new system will face the same problems as those coming from outside the EEA. They will be prohibited from accessing public funds until they are granted permanent residence, something that will take five years for some migrants and 10 for others, if it is granted at all. No recourse to public funds conditions will be applied to the family members of UK citizens and settled persons, as well as those to whom we have extended an invitation to come on a work visa. That means that individuals, families and children are prevented from accessing most in-work and out-of-work benefits, including child benefit, tax credits, universal credit, income-related employment support allowance, income support, local welfare assistance schemes, housing benefit and social security.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the term “no recourse to public funds” is slightly misleading, because there are a number of benefits that people are entitled to, including the furlough scheme, should they be entitled to that?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

It is welcome that the furlough scheme is extended to these individuals, but it is nowhere near enough. I will come to specific problems in relation to covid later in my short speech.

In short, if these new clauses are not agreed, many thousands more people who are here because they are family members or because they are wanted for their work will be put at risk of poverty and insecurity.

Those who come here with limited leave visas certainly do not expect to have to rely on public funds, but as we have seen all too well in recent months, unforeseeable events that are completely beyond their control can have a dramatic impact on their capacity to sustain themselves and their family. I am talking about coronavirus, but the ability of individuals to support themselves can be affected for reasons that are many and varied. It could be economics, illness within the family, relationship breakdown, accidents or the death of a loved one.

We have allowed and welcomed people who come to work here or to join their families. There is no reason or justification for denying them the safety net and security that we regard as essential for everybody else.

Included in those impacted by the NRPF rules are parents who are working hard in roles that are absolutely crucial at this time, including care workers, NHS staff, cleaners and people involved in food preparation. Some are working extraordinarily long hours but still cannot access even limited top-up benefits to help them meet the needs of their children.

Thanks to the Children’s Society, we know that many of the families detrimentally impacted by the rules are headed by single mothers, often from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. There are also significant numbers of families that include children with special educational needs who require additional help from supporting agencies.

It is also important to note that many of the children who will be victims of the NRPF rules will have been born and brought up here. I link back to my amendment on fees for registering British citizens; some of these children would be entitled to British citizenship, but cannot access it, either because they are not aware of it or because they are priced out of it. There will even be British citizens among those children, who are being punished because their parents’ immigration status prevents them from accessing support.

The disastrous impacts of all the rules are well established. People who are prohibited from accessing public funds are clearly at risk of destitution, with no access to the social safety net. The impact on children can be particularly devastating, in so far as deprivation is clearly detrimental to their long-term growth and development. As the Children’s Society points out, living in poverty even for short periods of time has significant detrimental effects on children’s outcomes, both in childhood and in later life, affecting their school attainment, cognitive and behavioural development, and physical and mental health.

Recently, the High Court found no recourse to public funds policies to be unlawful, holding that the relevant immigration rules and casework instructions did not adequately account for human rights obligations. That case was brought by an eight-year-old boy whose mother was subject to NRPF conditions and on the 10-year route to settlement. She was a carer for mentally disabled clients, before the imposition of the NRPF conditions led her and her son to experience periods of destitution. They moved house repeatedly, with the boy having been moved five times before the age of eight, and at one point they were street homeless. The court found that the Home Secretary must not impose or should lift NRPF conditions when it is clear that a person is at risk of imminent destitution in the absence of public funds, rather than waiting for that destitution to take place. As legislators, we should be doing better than that; we should avoid families being at risk of destitution at all. We invite families and individuals to come to undertake vital work here, and we should extend the safety net that we enjoy ourselves.

As in other areas, the Home Office sometimes attempts to pass the buck to local authorities and argues that support under legislation relating to children should mean a safety net of sorts is provided, but the number able to access such support is extremely limited, and the support is also incredibly restricted—sometimes as little as £3 per day per child. As I understand it, children are not even allowed to access free school meals.

The Home Office will also point out that, on application, NRPF conditions can be lifted, but those on the frontline say that such applications are incredibly difficult to have success with and have to be repeated multiple times. Those who apply who are currently on five-year routes to settlement will instead be placed on a 10-year route to settlement, with none of their residence to date being counted towards that target. The price of access to that safety net is insecurity.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that benefits that people are entitled to by virtue of their paying national insurance contributions are able to be paid, including important ones such as contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, incapacity benefit and, of course, retirement pension?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General) 2:30 pm, 18th June 2020

I do not think I have denied that certain benefits are still available to people, but none of that explains or resolves all the challenges that I outlined. For all these reasons, we believe that the no recourse to public funds rule should be got rid of altogether.

That is all the more urgent in relation to the covid-19 crisis, for which the implications of these policies are absolutely counterproductive. People who are prohibited from accessing public funds will feel compelled to continue to work, even when doing so is not safe for them or their families. As I said, their inclusion in the furlough scheme is welcome, but someone who is subject to NRPF and is dismissed from their job will obviously not have access to the furlough scheme, and nor can they claim universal credit. They are at real risk of destitution.

We all watched the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee recently. He was questioned, quite memorably, by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, who provided an example to the Prime Minister of parents who had lived in the UK for at least 15 years and who had two children, aged 11 and 13. They found themselves facing destitution for reasons entirely beyond their control. It was telling that the Prime Minister could not explain why the family was not able to access support. Of course, they should be able to access support, and these new clauses would allow that to happen.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I rise to speak to new clause 59, tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to produce an analysis of the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition on EEA and Swiss nationals, including those with children, those with pre-settled status and those who are victims of domestic abuse.

As we heard from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, no recourse to public funds conditions can prevent access to some welfare benefits, to free school meals and to other support for working families who may have been paying tax. That may include families with children, including British-born children, and other vulnerable people. As we heard, application can be made to lift the condition, but it is necessary to reapply at each visa renewal, and the condition can be reinstated.

The impact of no recourse to public funds conditions on the poorest households has been magnified, as the hon. Gentleman said, by the covid crisis. The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit reports that applications to lift the condition are subject to considerable delay; that the process for applying is overcomplicated, and that is exacerbated for those who struggle to make digital applications; that the evidential requirements are high and unnecessarily onerous; and, as a result, that decisions are still awaited weeks after applications have been submitted.

This makes it harder for those subject to the condition to achieve social distancing or to self-isolate if they need to. They are more likely to be living in overcrowded accommodation, with many building up rent arrears. Even though they may, as the Minister rightly says, be eligible for the Government’s furlough scheme, they are under considerable pressure to keep working in many cases. Often, their children are not in school and they cannot access free childcare, forcing them to rely on friends and family to provide that care, meaning that children are moving between households, further increasing the covid risk.

Meanwhile, Safety4Sisters tells me that local authority housing services in Greater Manchester have been turning women subject to no recourse to public funds conditions away from the emergency homeless accommodation set up during the crisis, even though that should not happen. This has resulted in at least one vulnerable woman becoming street homeless in Manchester in recent weeks, until she was found by the police and taken to safety.

Given these shocking circumstances, Labour has called for the no recourse to public funds condition to be suspended during the covid emergency. As we heard, new clause 45, proposed by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, would give effect to such a suspension, while ensuring that, if Parliament wishes to reinstate the regime as soon as the crisis ends, it can do so. Suspension of the condition now would not only provide vital relief to families who have had their livelihoods catastrophically affected by covid, but would give the Government the opportunity to give full consideration to the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition more broadly and to future policy.

As we know, and as we have just heard, the Prime Minister was apparently surprised to hear about the effects of the condition during his recent session with the Liaison Committee, and he was right to say that

“people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support”.

Sadly, just a week later, on 3 June, in his response in Prime Minister’s questions to my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, he appeared to backtrack on his commitment to see what could be done to help them.

It is, of course, welcome that the Government have now issued guidance to give effect to the judgment in the case described by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, but this still leaves many potentially vulnerable people at risk of being subject to the condition. That includes those EU nationals who are here now but are able to secure only pre-settled status. They will not meet the habitual residence test and will be ineligible for non-contributory benefits; that includes disabled people, who will not be able to claim universal credit. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North will speak to her new clause 62 and the damaging effect the condition could have on EEA and Swiss national families with children.

Given the potential impact on vulnerable groups, I hope the Minister will accept the suggestion of an analysis of the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. If the Prime Minister’s commitment to review the application still holds, and if, as is reported, the Government intend to bring forward a further immigration Bill in the near future, they could take that opportunity to legislate to make any changes Parliament then deems necessary. The evidence base that such a review could supply would also be a useful prerequisite for a decision on the broader proposals set out in new clause 56 by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, were the Government minded to consider them. I commend our new clause to the Committee.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

It is a pleasure to serve under you this afternoon, Mr Stringer. I wish to speak to new clause 62, on the no recourse to public funds policy and to support new clause 59, tabled by my hon. Friends.

New clause 62 would exempt EU, EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants under the age of 18 from being subject to any NRPF condition that would otherwise be placed on them under the immigration rules. Many believe that these protections should apply to all families, regardless of their nationality, but for the purposes of the Government’s tightly drawn Bill, the new clause is limited in the way I have described.

Many find it astonishing that this condition is applied to children at all. Having NRPF means that the life chances of thousands of children are dictated by their parents’ inability to access support from the social security system because of their immigration status, even though the children themselves might be British.

I know that the Minister will use his concluding remarks to say that limiting access to public funds for these children and families is in the public interest and that they should be paying in to the system before they benefit from it. He will know that many of the families affected are those of key workers, who are at the frontline at this very moment in the fight against coronavirus. We are talking about NHS hospital cleaners, and about people who work in food preparation or social care, but they are being denied the same access to the safety net that they are working within. These families are paying income tax, council tax, immigration application fees and the health surcharge. It is calculated that if a family started their 10-year settlement journey in 2012, assuming they were not successful in getting fee waivers, and fees did not increase again, a single mum with two children would be expected to pay more than £23,000 for the family to settle in 10 years. A family of five—a couple with three children—would be expected to pay more than £39,000 to settle in the UK.

The NRPF does the opposite of making work pay, because families may end up forced into destitution if parents try to work but cannot access benefits. Working parents, single mums, mothers fleeing domestic violence, parents who have children born in the UK and children with British citizenship currently cannot access benefits to which they should be entitled. For children and families, that includes not being able to access benefits to support children’s upbringing and families’ wellbeing, to ensure that children have the same life chances as their peers.

As we have already heard, in May 2020, the Unity Project and Project 17 supported an eight-year-old British boy in taking the Government to court over the policy. The court ruled that the NRPF policy breached article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhumane and degrading treatment.

Applicants can apply to have their NRPF condition removed if they are likely to become destitute, but the process is time-consuming and requires specialist advice, which is difficult to obtain, especially during the current pandemic. NRPF families may be able to access support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which is often the only safety net available. That is payable, as we all know, through local authorities, but the pressure of austerity and cuts to local council budgets have left councils largely unable to offer much support.

Section 17 is often referred to by the Government as the basic safety net for migrant families with NRPF, but there is little support—sometimes as little as £3 per child per day—which makes it nearly impossible to meet the basic needs of a child, let alone support them to have a healthy, happy childhood. We have to acknowledge that that, again, puts an unnecessary strain on stretched local authority budgets.

Most, if not all, services that support migrant families with NRPF state that having no recourse to public funds increases the risk of families becoming trapped in a cycle of extreme poverty, vulnerability and abuse. Many children in NRPF families go without things that other children get to enjoy and that are important for their development, including, for example, days out as a family or school trips. One example that the Children’s Society gave me was of Hamid, who said that if his son’s classmates were going on a school trip, he would not take his son to school that day, because he did not want him to see his friends going while he stayed behind because they just could not afford it.

Other Government Departments are beginning to recognise the consequences of NRPF. The Department for Education has temporarily allowed children with NRPF to access free school meals, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has instructed local authorities to house homeless people with NRPF. In the longer term, the solution lies with the Home Office, so I ask the Minister to give an assurance to the Committee that safeguards will be put in place to ensure that more families will not be forced into destitution as a result of a condition placed on their leave to remain.

The Government have made it clear that they want to wrap their arms around everyone during this time of crisis. Vulnerable children are at the heart of the Government’s agenda, so the new clause will ensure that that can happen. I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

After the end of the transition period, EEA citizens coming to the UK will be subject to the same requirements as non-EEA citizens and the same conditions restricting access to public funds under our new global immigration system. The new clauses would maintain a system in which EEA citizens, including those arriving in future, continued to enjoy preferential treatment over non-EEA citizens in relation to their access to benefits. That is not the Government’s intention, nor would it be fair, and it is not something that the British people would support, given the mandate that they have given to the Government.

New clause 45 would delay the introduction of the no recourse to public funds condition to EEA citizens until Parliament had decided on the matter in the light of the current pandemic. However, as has been touched on by some Opposition Members, to their credit, the Government have already made provision to support people through the pandemic, including those subject to no recourse to public funds, and are keeping the situation under review.

It should also be noted that the no recourse to public funds condition does not bar access to all benefits, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. People covered by it may still, for example, access contribution-based benefits and statutory sick pay. Exceptions are also made for vulnerable migrants, such as refugees and those granted humanitarian protection. Those granted leave on the basis of their family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights can apply to have the conditions lifted if they would otherwise be destitute.

New clause 56 would enable EU citizens already resident to continue to access public funds in the future on the same basis as they currently can. I understand the sentiment behind the proposal from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, but I cannot agree to it, as we have now left the European Union. The Government have given clear and firm commitments to protect the entitlements of EEA citizens resident in the UK before the end of the transition period. We have delivered those protections through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and by establishing the EU settlement scheme, about which we have talked regularly in Committee.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 2:45 pm, 18th June 2020

Does my hon. Friend know whether any other EU countries have extended to UK citizens living in the European Union the type of benefits proposed by the new clauses?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is probably worth saying that many European welfare schemes are based on slightly different premises—for example, social insurance schemes. As we reflected on when we talked about healthcare costs, people accessing healthcare services in other European countries may be required to pay for things that the NHS provides free at the point of need to UK nationals. It is hard to give different examples, but there are protections in the withdrawal agreement for UK citizens living in the EU before the end of the transition period. To be fair, many countries have been good in wanting proactively to support UK citizens living in their nation. I cannot give a list of each countries’ individual migration system off the top of my head, but it is probably safe to say that it is relatively common around the world for those who have newly arrived in a country to be unlikely to be able to access and qualify for a range of welfare provisions.

EEA citizens who apply under the EU settlement scheme secure their rights in UK law, so they can access benefits and services on at least the same basis as before they were granted that status. The Government have provided guidance for local authorities to enable them to support vulnerable EEA citizens in making an application under the scheme. The Government have also made available to local authorities and charities a further £8 million, in addition to the £9 million announced last year, to help them to assist vulnerable EEA citizens in making applications.

New clause 56 would risk impacting the Government’s ability to make regulations under the power in clause 4, the importance of which I have set out previously in Committee: to ensure that our laws operate coherently once free movement ends; to align the immigration treatment of newly arriving EEA citizens and non-EEA citizens from 1 January 2021; and to make relevant savings and transitional provisions for resident EEA citizens that cannot be made under powers in the 2020 Act.

New clause 59 would require the Government to publish a report on the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition on certain groups of EEA nationals. This is not necessary; the Government are already required to consider the impact of policies on all those to whom they apply, not just certain groups.

On new clause 62, I share the interest of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in ensuring the wellbeing of children, but I do not believe the new clause is necessary. Immigration law already provides that local authorities may intervene where required, regardless of the immigration status or nationality of the child or parent. The safeguards in place for the vulnerable will be retained, but it is only right that the future immigration system continues to play a part in ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are protected for the residents of the UK, whose money it is, and in assuring them that immigration continues to benefit the country as a whole and is not based on creating new costs and burdens for public resources.

I understand and appreciate the intentions behind new clause 62, but it would provide EEA citizens with greater access to benefits in the UK than they currently have under UK law. Generally speaking, under EU free movement law, EEA citizens may currently access benefits when they exercise a qualifying EU treaty right—for example, through employment or self-employment, or when they have become permanent residents. The new clause would remove that qualification and provide that any EEA citizen in this country with a child, for whatever period and in whatever capacity, may qualify for welfare benefits.

We believe that a general qualifying threshold of five years for access to benefits in immigration procedures is the right one, as it reflects the strength of a person’s connection to the United Kingdom and the principle that people should come to the UK to contribute, rather than to take advantage of, and place pressures on, taxpayer-funded services and welfare payments. Non-EEA migrants who come to live in the UK are currently expected to provide for any children they have without recourse to public funds. There can be no reasonable justification for adopting a different principle for EEA citizens arriving in the UK when the new immigration system is introduced, given that we have now left the European Union.

Finally, new clauses 59 and 62 incorrectly reference the immigration health surcharge. The immigration health surcharge is not a public fund. It is a contribution made by temporary migrants towards the costs of the NHS services they can access from day one. These new clauses would undermine the intention to establish a unified immigration system that builds public confidence in its operation, and therefore the Government cannot accept them.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

People do not come to this country to take advantage of the social security system; they come here to work or because they are family members of British citizens or settled persons. Having asked them to come to work or join family members here, I regard it as unfair that we do not extend the same social safety net to them. We are not arguing for a discriminatory system.

As the Minister knows, we are limited by the scope of the Bill. I feel that we have not got to the fundamental principle of why we can ask people to contribute on the one hand and yet not provide them with the same safety net. This is particularly urgent in relation to the coronavirus, and we need fast action. The Minister referred to this matter being under review, but we are several months into the crisis and we will have to revisit this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.