What is NRPF?
Hundreds of people in Greater Manchester are living with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions on their immigration status. It sounds like a technicality, added to a visa as an afterthought. In practice it is a brutal, racist, misogynistic and immoral part of the Hostile Environment. It applies to those in the UK without immigration permission and most people with temporary permission to be in the UK (which means that although you can work and pay taxes, you cannot access most benefits or state support).
If you want to imagine who this affects, picture Rosa. She is a single mum in south Manchester working on a low-paid, zero hours contract as a cleaner while Jamal, her five year old British son, is cared for by friends in similar situations. Originally from Jamaica, Rosa is half way though the 10 years it will take her to be able to apply for settlement in the UK – the only way to be free of her recurring NRPF condition. That’s no child benefit for Jamal, no in-work benefits or tax credits for Rosa. And no welfare benefit safety net if she loses her job. Just taxes to pay, immigration fees every 30 months and the NHS health surcharge. If she fails to successfully make her immigration applications during her 10 year route to settlement, Rosa will have to start again. And if she’s fortunate enough to apply for her NRPF condition to be removed, it could be reinstated 30 months later. Rosa and Jamal are trapped in poverty and neither her work nor his nationality can free them from it.
And then COVID-19 happened. NRPF conditions have always been unjust and caused utter misery to individuals, families and communities in Greater Manchester. But in the middle of a pandemic they are not only unjust, they are unsafe for all of us.
Why NRPF puts us all at risk during COVID-19?
We support people in Greater Manchester to apply to have their NRPF condition removed –because they are destitute or because of the welfare of their children. In April 2020, with scores of organisations around the country, we signed a letter to the Home Secretary asking her to end NRPF. We did it because the people we support with NRPF in Greater Manchester simply can’t afford to socially distance or self-isolate.
Employment – people with an NRPF condition have to work to survive. That is how the system is designed. There is no benefit safety net to support them so, despite living in the middle of a public health crisis, people work – regardless of underlying health conditions and despite COVID-19 symptoms. Low paid, zero hour, precarious contracts are the norm for most people we support with NRPF conditions. In these arrangements people have struggled to access the furlough scheme. Fear of their families becoming destitute has also acted as a strong disincentive against reporting unsafe working conditions.
Accommodation – many people we support live in substandard, cramped accommodation, often sharing with other family and friends or sofa-surfing. Social distancing is incredibly hard, self-isolating often impossible. Coupled with people’s disincentive to stop working, the risk of transmission in crowded living conditions is all too evident. Most people with NRPF conditions live in private rented accommodation without access to homelessness assistance under the Housing Act. While evictions are suspended, people tell us they are accruing rent arrears because of their reduced income, and they are concerned about rent increases and evictions as lockdown eases.
People at particular risk – restrictions on free childcare mean throughout the pandemic people have continued to rely on friends and family providing childcare while they work – increasing transmission risks as children move between households. And for people experiencing domestic violence who are subject to an NRPF condition, the situation in lockdown is appalling. Without access to housing benefit people we support are turned away by refuges and wrongly informed (including by police and statutory services) that there is nowhere for them to go other than home with their abuser.
Applications to remove NRPF conditions – the government talks about individual applications to change conditions as the answer to problems raised about NRPF. Despite the Home Secretary’s assurances that during lockdown these applications are “being dealt with swiftly and compassionately”, our experience is that the digitised process is overly complex, the evidentiary requirements are unrealistic and the decision-making is slow. No legal aid is available, so if people are unable to find services like ours they are pushed towards private solicitors or forced to attempt the process themselves. Digital poverty – exacerbated by lockdown – is making this impossible for some. The online process asks unnecessary and irrelevant questions (like the work and benefit histories of children) and takes longer to complete than the paper version. The already high evidential requirements are now unachievable for many. For example, six months’ of bank statements for all accounts for everyone in the household that need annotating to explain all incomings and any regular or significant (over £50) transactions. There are also delays in applications being decided – we are still chasing applications made at the start of lockdown. One delay of six weeks was only resolved with the threat of immediate legal action.
How are NRPF conditions affecting people in Greater Manchester?
Lockdown has been really hard for the Sharif family. Mum, dad and two children are all subjected to an NRPF condition. Until he had a stroke, dad was the only member of the family in work. Mum is too sick to work, the eldest child is full-time carer for her parents and the younger child is a student. The family are dependent on food banks. We applied for their NRPF conditions to be lifted at the start of lockdown. The Sharif’s have still not had an answer.
Shelley and her four children (all under 18) have spent lockdown sharing one bedroom in the house of a family member. They have no income and are totally reliant on food banks and family support. We applied for their NRPF condition to be lifted one month ago, Shelley is still waiting to hear from the Home Office.
What needs to be done?
The only response to these injustices is to scrap NRPF, right now and for all. The courts have found NRPF breaches people’s human rights – the government response needs to be ending NRPF not just tinkering with it. COVID-19 provides an opportunity to stop NRPF on grounds of public health; NRPF unquestionably makes us all less safe and more vulnerable. With the current backlog in NRPF decisions, people should also be granted access to public funds while they await a decision. But regardless of the pandemic, NRPF should be ended on grounds of humanity. Here – as elsewhere around the country – our community and the people who call Greater Manchester home have suffered with NRPF conditions long enough.
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