UK’s Post-Brexit Immigration Rules Targets Homeless
At the beginning of December 2020, in amongst a series of post-Brexit immigration rule changes, the Home Office introduced some additional grounds for refusal or cancellation of permission to stay. As immigration Solicitors, we know all too well that the Home Office has a tendency to introduce changes which many may view as controversial quietly and among a number of other amendments. The statement of amendments, HC813, contained a specific change which makes it possible for the Home Office to refuse entry or cancel leave for a person who has been found to be ‘rough sleeping’. There is now concern that this change may lead to the unfair treatment of migrants who have fallen on hard times in the UK, including EU nationals. In this article, we will explain the implications of the new Home Office immigration rule change to make rough sleeping a ground for refusal or cancellation of permission to stay in the UK.
What Does The Amendment To The Immigration Rules Say?
The statement of amendments, HC813, adds the following to the immigration rules (part 9) grounds for refusal:
“Section 4: Additional grounds for refusal of permission to stay
Rough sleeping in the UK
9.21.1. Permission to stay may be refused where the decision-maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK.
9.21.2. Where the decision-maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK, any permission held by the person may be cancelled”.
This confirms that rough sleeping may be grounds for not only refusal of permission to stay, but also for its cancellation where already been granted.
‘Rough sleeping’ is defined in the same statement of amendments as “sleeping, or bedding down, in the open air (for example on the street or in doorways) or in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (for example sheds, car parks or stations)”. Of particular concern is that this definition is rather loose, as sleeping in any building which is technically not intended for occupation may lead to refusal or cancellation of leave. It is also not clear which, if any, exceptions may apply. For example, if a person is made homeless for reasons out of their control and there is no immediate alternative, will an exception be made by the Home Office?
EU and EEA Nationals Disproportionately Affected
According to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), using data from a network of homeless outreach centres, at least one-quarter of homeless people in London in the first half of 2020 were EU or EEA nationals, with the large majority from Poland and Romania. Whereas any EU national living in the UK before the end of 2020 can apply for EU settled status up to the end of June 2021, this is particularly difficult for those without a fixed abode. Many homeless people from the EU/EEA also do not have an employment history or proper ID, making it difficult to prove their entitlement to settled status. In addition, many lack the financial resources to seek advice regarding the EU Settlement Scheme.
In the words of Benjamin Morgan, who runs a rights project for homeless EU migrants at the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), “Not only do we believe these changes to the immigration rules are unlawful, we also think they're morally repugnant… They are also extremely likely to be counterproductive in terms of the government's stated intent of reducing rough sleeping”. His group is currently mounting a legal case against the new regulations. In response, the Home Office stated, “For the small minority of migrant rough sleepers who continue to refuse government and local authority support and repeatedly engage in persistent anti-social behaviour, the new immigration reforms mean they could lose their right to be in the U.K”. “This would be a last resort measure, and initially, individuals would be asked to leave voluntarily with government support. In the event that they refuse, we may take the step to remove them”.
The real danger for migrants who find themselves sleeping rough, and then at the mercy of the Home Office’s new regulations, is that they may not have the psychological capacity to defend themselves, and may inadvertently be deported. What these people are much more likely to need is support in terms of mental health and housing. Barbara Drozdowicz, who represents the East European Resource Centre (EERC) makes this point; “People sleeping rough who are struggling with mental health might not be the best advocates of their own interests”. This is compounded by the lack of trust between rough sleepers and homeless services. According to Benjamin Morgan, this wasn’t helped when homeless charities St. Mungo’s and Thames Reach shared personal and location information with the authorities on rough sleepers.
There is now only a small window of time for EU nationals living in the UK to acquire settled status, and everyone who is entitled should be encouraged and helped to apply. By holding settled status, EU nationals living in the UK are much more secure in terms of their immigration rights. Ultimately, anyone who is destitute needs to know that no matter what happens, even if they have lost their home, they are still able to remain in the UK and can get the help and support they need to get back on their feet.
This latest change to the immigration rules will no doubt be seen as yet another string to the bow of the hostile environment. One only needs to consider the multitude of factors which can lead to homelessness to realise that the authorities should be not punishing those who are rough sleeping. After all, they have not committed a crime or done any harm. They need compassion and empathy, not the cold-hearted application of deportation rules.