Most migrants to the UK from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) will be aware that the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NPRF) restriction prohibits access to forms of public funding. Public funds include benefits such as Universal Credit, child benefit, housing benefits, and tax credits. EU and EEA citizens are subject to similar restrictions on benefits in the UK, however those with the ‘right to reside’ (i.e. Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme) and who are ‘habitually resident’ will have full access to public funds.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly exacerbated any financial difficulties that migrants to the UK who were unable to claim public financial help were already experiencing.
At the end of March 2020, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a short briefing on the economic risks of the pandemic for migrant workers, and how the Government could and should implement a ‘social safety net’. Specifically, it confirms that based on the Government’s own labour data, migrants are likely to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19; “Drawing on data from the Labour Force Survey, we find that migrants are more likely to be working in industries affected by the crisis, including accommodation and food services. Moreover, migrants are more likely to be self-employed and in temporary work, putting them at particular risk of losing their livelihoods as a result of the crisis. Finally, migrants are far less likely to own their own home and more likely to be in private rented accommodation, placing their households in a financially precarious situation as the coronavirus emergency develops.” As such, there is a ‘double whammy’ effect being experienced by many migrants as a result of less secure working and living arrangements.
As the IPPR goes on to say, there is a third risk factor, that being the lack of a ‘social safety net’. As they state, “despite these risks, many migrants in the UK have only a limited social safety net, given that visa conditions often include barriers to accessing public funds. This means that migrants face the unenviable choice of continuing to work in spite of the health risks of losing their livelihoods. This poses a significant danger to both individual workers and to efforts to minimise the transmission of the virus. We, therefore, propose emergency measures to lift restrictions on access to benefits and public services, in order to limit the economic fallout of coronavirus and protect public health”.
Several weeks have now passed this the IPPR published their recommendation that restrictions on access to benefits and public services for migrants should be lifted due to COVID-19, and as yet, the Government does not seem to have heeded this advice in the form of a blanket policy. It has, however, made some individual and limited concessions.
In limited circumstances, there are some public funding options available to migrants who are subject to NPRF restrictions, including :
There are other public funding sources which may be considered by migrants in the UK – these are typically exceptions which apply in very specific circumstances, including:
And according to a House of Commons briefing paper, there are a number of COVID-19 related policy concessions now available to some migrants with the NPRF restriction, including:
The Government has made available additional funding to local authorities to help vulnerable groups, including migrants subject to NPRF. According to the Home Office, the Government has made over £3.2 billion available to local authorities in England and devolved administrations to support vulnerable groups. They say that this funding will “assist local authorities across the UK with providing accommodation and support to vulnerable people who are at risk of, or who have been diagnosed with, Covid-19. We will continue to work closely with local authorities to ensure that they have the resource they need to protect people who are currently, or at risk of, sleeping rough”. As such, any migrant struggling with housing should contact their local authority immediately to discuss how they can assist.
For any migrant in the UK on a partner visa who is currently being affected by domestic violence and will be eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) is available. This provides leave for three months’ leave independent from their sponsoring partner, as well as recourse to public funds to find safe accommodation while applying for ILR.
The NPRF restriction is added to the financial difficulties already being felt by thousands of migrants in the UK as a result of COVID-19. The Government has made some concessions and migrants with NPRF can utilise very limited forms of public funding, but it will likely fall to charities and non-public funding providers to fill the gap left behind by the state.
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