Vulnerable Migrants Cut Out of Cost of Living Support
The ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition means migrant people who are destitute or on very low incomes will not be entitled to Government help
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Some of the UK’s most vulnerable people are excluded from much of the Government’s support for the cost of living crisis due to their migration status.
People who have no recourse to public funds cannot access a range of initiatives on offer to those on low-incomes or who have specific needs, as they are not entitled to state support. This is despite the fact that they may be experiencing poverty and deprivation, or be destitute.
A person who is subject to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition is unable to claim any benefits that are classed as ‘public funds’ for immigration purposes. These include means-tested benefits such as Universal Credit, child tax credits, state pension credit, council tax support, disability living allowance, and social fund payments such as the winter fuel allowance, as well as many more.
People with an NRPF condition are entitled to access the energy bills support scheme if they have a domestic energy connection – this is the £400 Government grant that will appear as an automatic credit from their energy supplier. They are also entitled to the Energy Rebate Scheme, worth £150 to eligible households.
However, they cannot access the £650 Cost of Living Payment designed to help those on the lowest incomes, as it is only available to people on means-tested benefits such as Universal Credit. This is even the case if a migrant person is themselves on low or no income.
They are also excluded from the £300 Pensioner Cost of Living Payment; the £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment; the Winter Fuel Payment; and the Cold Weather Payment.
A final form of support – the Warm Home Discount Scheme – is more ambiguous and depends on an individual’s energy supplier. While it is not a ‘public fund’ for immigration purposes, the qualifying criteria for this year required an energy customer to be in receipt of a means-tested benefit. This meant people with no recourse to public funds were unable to qualify for a discount, unless their energy provider had chosen to include a criteria that included low-income customers who were not in receipt of benefits.
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Charities working on the frontline have seen first-hand how the cost of living crisis is impacting on people with no recourse to public funds.
“The biggest problem right now is the cost of food,” said Hannana Siddiqui, head of policy and research at Southall Black Sisters. “We support women who have gone through domestic abuse and offer a no recourse fund, which is £50 a week. This is designed to help them meet their rent and subsistence. Many of them are either on very low incomes or cannot work. They are just about surviving. Many are having to go to food banks.”
Siddiqui recently heard from a mother who was trying to survive on the £50 a week she received from the charity, while still trying to save to buy clothes and shoes from Primark after covering food and bills. She only has toast and hot chocolate for dinner, as she can’t afford more. The charity’s support is her only source of income as she cannot access state help.
“It’s hardly anything, £50 a week,” said Siddiqui. “But they’re expected to survive on that. Because there is nothing else for them.”
Many women without recourse to public funds are failed asylum seekers who end up destitute as they appeal their refused claim or become undocumented. Others may be on low incomes and are simply struggling to make ends meet, denied the additional help that British nationals and those with specific visas are entitled to.
Southall Black Sisters supports women who have endured domestic abuse – a group which are especially vulnerable to the cost of living crisis.
“Even women who tried to leave an abusive partner temporarily may feel they can’t cope and are forced to go back,” Siddiqui told Byline Times. “Just to have a roof over her head and some extra money. A lot of women we support don’t have help from family or may face stigma from their community if they leave an abusive marriage. They have very little other sources of support.”
Mental health is “the other crisis we are facing,” she warned. “A lot of women are more lonely, they are more isolated, they are more depressed.”
There are also fears that those who have no recourse to public funds and who cannot make ends meet during the cost of living crisis may fall into the informal economy where they are at risk of exploitation.
“I think a lot of women are at risk of being exploited,” said Siddiqui. “They are destitute, they end up homeless, they get picked up by strangers who either take them in as domestic servants, or exploit them sexually.”
The Government has already been criticised for not doing enough to support the most deprived households, as inflation hit double figures this week for the first time in more than 40 years and energy bills for the average households are expected to reach more than £4,000 per year in January 2023.
An open letter from a coalition of anti-poverty charities urged the Government to “do more, fast” to help the poorest in society to weather the crisis.
For Siddiqui and many of the other migrant rights charities, the solution is clear: end the no recourse to public funds condition and make sure everyone has the help they need.
A Government spokesperson said that the provision of No Recourse to Public Funds “has been upheld by successive governments and maintains that those coming to the UK should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer”.
“However, there are safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable migrants who are destitute and have other needs, such as supporting children, can receive help and can also apply to have the conditions lifted,” they added.