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New report by Homeless Link and NACCOM highlights the importance of high quality immigration advice for non-UK nationals facing homelessness

Summary:

Comprehensive report lays out roadmap for supporting migrants facing homelessness in England

Date of Publication:
01 July 2022

New report by Homeless Link and NACCOM highlights the importance of high quality immigration advice for non-UK nationals facing homelessness

01 July 2022
EIN

The charity Homeless Link has published a comprehensive new report on the support that is needed for non-UK nationals facing homelessness in England. It was produced in collaboration with the No Accommodation Network (NACCOM).

Home Office buildingYou can download the 93-page report here.

Homeless Link and NACCOM commented: "Non-UK nationals are more vulnerable to homelessness than people with UK citizenship, and those with restricted or undetermined eligibility for public funds even more so. This challenge is driven by complex factors at national and local levels. In this report, we present findings from research and consultation with local authorities, voluntary sector stakeholders and people with lived experience of restricted eligibility and homelessness in England. We offer a roadmap to tackling this challenge at the local level and highlight the national policy changes needed in order to end rough sleeping and homelessness for everyone, for good."

Of particular relevance for readers of EIN, the report highlights how access to quality immigration and welfare benefits advice is crucial to resolving non-UK nationals' homelessness and it should be at the core of local authorities' support.

The report states: "All stakeholders spoke about the value of Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC)-regulated immigration advice providers as partners in their homelessness response and this was back by local authority investment in all areas."

Stakeholders emphasised the importance of ensuring that non-UK nationals had access to high quality and independent immigration advice, with trained OISC-registered advisors or solicitors that were able to navigate the complex situations that people facing homelessness often presented with.

Homeless Link and NACCOM noted that staff in the homelessness sector, both in charities and local councils, frequently lack the necessary 'immigration literacy'.

"Immigration advice providers interviewed indicated that more homelessness staff needed to see immigration issues as 'their business', similar to a health issue, and integrate consideration of it and how it affects people into their work, in partnership with specialist advisors," the report says.

One immigration advisor is quoted as saying: "[For homelessness support staff,] there's the 'ordinary' homelessness and then 'the asylum seekers'. A lot of subtleties and differences are lost."

Charity and immigration advice stakeholders who participated in the report felt strongly that making quality immigration advice accessible to people earlier on in the process would save money and help prevent homelessness.

As the report adds, however, capacity in the immigration advice and legal aid systems is currently unable to meet demand.

"Interviewees also echoed previous research in reporting that supply and demand were particularly mismatched for more complex OISC Level 2 and 3 advice, as well as for legal aid cases. This underlines the need for a nuanced understanding of the nature of need in local areas, as well as the impact of dramatic cuts to legal aid in recent years. The limitations of the legal aid system also reflect the narrowing of its scope to exclude early legal advice for all areas of social welfare law (including welfare benefits, immigration and housing) since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)," the report states.

The report also highlights the perils of poor and inadequate legal advice, noting: "Across all areas, interviewees noted the damaging impacts that unscrupulous or poor quality advice had had individuals' lives. Private solicitors were often found to be providing inadequate advice while charging astronomical fees to people in homelessness accommodation. The impact that poor quality or unscrupulous solicitors could have on an individual was enormous, including forcing them into homelessness. In one case, an individual was unable to renew their leave to remain because they were unable to afford the fees and ended up losing their job and home. In another, a straightforward 'change of conditions' application had not been made, despite high sums paid. Even where private solicitors were practising fairly, effective joint working on cases was reported to be more difficult as homelessness staff struggled to engage with them."

In addition, the report briefly highlights the challenges caused by Home Office administration and decision-making processes, including delays in decisions and the high evidence thresholds imposed, particularly for people with histories of rough sleeping and informal work.

More positively, the report finds that examples of good practice in Bedford, Manchester and Haringey show that much can be achieved - and improved - at the local level to support non-UK nationals facing homelessness.

Rick Henderson, the CEO of Homeless Link, said: "Our research describes impressive and exciting progress made since COVID-19, which shows the way forward. However, as we approach the 2024 target year to end rough sleeping, we need ambition and a new approach. It is clear that–for non-UK nationals with restricted eligibility–the status quo will not get us there. The passing of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and rising numbers of Ukrainian nationals facing homelessness also point to a challenging path ahead. To achieve our shared goals, we cannot exclude any group from the umbrella of local homelessness support. In partnership with the immigration advice sector, and with the funding and leadership of national and local government, the homelessness sector is eager to rise to this challenge."