Housing officers 'should report illegal immigrants': Judges rule that councils can examine status of foreign applicants

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The Independent Online
LOCAL housing authorities which are satisfied that immigrants applying for accommodation are in the country illegally should report this view to the immigration authorities, the Court of Appeal said yesterday.

Three judges made the declaration when they ruled that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which has a large immigrant population, was entitled to investigate the status of foreign applicants and refuse to house those entering by deceit as homeless persons.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, sitting with Lords Justices Stuart-Smith and Waite, allowed the council's appeal against a High Court ruling that only the Home Secretary could decide the immigration status of home seekers.

Tower Hamlets said it faced a dilemma because of the large number of Bangladeshi men, settled in this country for some time, who have brought in their families and then claimed a right to housing because of overcrowded conditions.

Normally, leave to enter Britain is only given to people who say they have accommodation available to them in this country and will not rely on public funds, including housing.

Cases of alleged deceit have come to light when passports have been produced to housing officials containing a stamp signifying that the holders have stated they will not have recourse to public funds.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith ruled that current guidance from the Department of the Environment on housing homeless families was 'misleading and wrong in law' when it stated that everyone admitted to the country 'is entitled to equal treatment under the law' and that 'authorities should remember to treat as confidential information received on an applicant's immigration status'.

This did not apply to illegal entrants, the judge said.

The Master of the Rolls agreed and said: 'It would be an affront to common sense if those who steal into the country by subterfuge were then housed at public expense.'

Judith Beale, for the Department of the Environment, was refused leave to appeal against yesterday's decison to the House of Lords. She told the judges their ruling would affect housing authorities all over the country 'and could also have an affect on race relations'.

But the Master of the Rolls, while agreeing it was a 'significant and important' case, said it should be left to the Law Lords to decide whether they wanted to hear an appeal.