Homeless Link calls on Local Authorities and Homelessness charities to sign the #SupportDon’tDeport pledge
By Fiona Colley, Director of Social Change at the national homelessness membership charity Homeless Link.
New Home Office rules have made rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling a person’s leave to remain in certain circumstances. Local authorities and charities must send a clear signal by standing against this policy and for support-led solutions.
In 2017 the Home Office designated rough sleeping as an abuse of EU freedom of movement rights. The High Court ruled the policy illegal later that year, but many frontline workers still speak of how the fear created amongst people facing homelessness outlived the actual legislation.
People facing homelessness are often reliant on informal information flows where detail and nuance is lost. What they hear is that accessing support could put someone at risk of deportation. Frontline workers said the climate even led to non-EU nationals, who weren’t affected by the legislation, becoming hesitant to access homelessness support.
Now, four years down the line and emerging from one of the most trying times in recent history, we are facing a very similar problem. In October 2020, without consulting the homelessness sector, the Home Office made changes to Immigration Rules, making rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling someone’s leave to remain within the UK. Following widespread opposition from the homelessness sector, the Home Office published new guidance in April this year to make it clear that these new powers can only be used if “a person has refused repeated offers of suitable support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour.”
Homeless Link is the national membership body for frontline homelessness agencies, representing over 860 organisations across England. Despite the guidance, we fear that if local authorities and charities don’t send a strong message on this issue, it could prevent some of society’s most vulnerable people from accessing support. Information about the nuanced categories of those affected is unlikely to be understood by many on the ground, while uncertainty and distrust in services spreads quickly.
Many in the sector are also concerned about the subjectivity of the revised guidance. In many cases, people sleeping rough have experienced significant trauma in their lives. As a result, they often have multiple, complex needs such as mental health issues and issues with drugs and/or alcohol. This can make it hard for people to engage with services and take up offers of support.
There are also concerns that the new rules will negatively impact victims of modern slavery. Many, through no fault of their own, have complex immigration issues and can end up living on the streets. In December, a coalition of 150 charities, trade unions, lawyers and local authorities wrote to the Home Office, raising concerns that “the new rules are likely to affect both victims before they have been identified and those facing homelessness or destitution after being confirmed as victims.”
That’s why we are asking all local authorities and charities who regularly support people experiencing rough sleeping to come together and sign our pledge to support, not deport people sleeping rough, promising not to make referrals under the new rules and endeavour to provide support-led solutions to all people experiencing homelessness.
To help make this happen, we need members of the public to be proactive and contact their local council or councillors (especially where they are Cities of Sanctuary), urging them to take a stand on this issue. If you would like to play your part you can access a draft email to send to your local authority/councillors at the bottom of our campaign page.
Homeless Link is asking local authorities to sign the #SupportDontDeport pledge. A pledge form, policy briefing and model resolution is available on our website.