More than 100 councils and charities vow to boycott Home Office policy to deport rough sleepers

Exclusive: Local leaders, including London mayor, pledge not to collaborate with ‘draconian’ measures

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 08 August 2021 20:04
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<p>Nine local authorities and 102 charities have vowed not to refer non-UK rough sleepers to the Home Office</p>

Nine local authorities and 102 charities have vowed not to refer non-UK rough sleepers to the Home Office

More than 110 local councils and charities have vowed to boycott a controversial new Home Office policy to deport foreign rough sleepers.

Rules that came into effect on 1 January made rough sleeping grounds to cancel or refuse a non-British national’s right to be in the UK.

In April, the Home Office published guidance stating that the new powers can only be used if “a person has refused repeated offers of suitable support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour”.

But campaigners said the policy could push already vulnerable people, including victims of modern slavery, further into the fringes of society, and that the limitations announced in April were “far from sufficient”.

Now it has emerged that nine local authorities and 102 charities have vowed not to refer non-UK rough sleepers to the Home Office under the policy, by signing up to a campaign called Support don’t Deport.

It comes after The Independent revealed that homeless people have been threatened with eviction from emergency accommodation and given the option only to return to their home countries, even if they have UK immigration status.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, who has signed up to the Support don’t Deport campaign, told The Independent: “We will not let those without a voice be quietly removed from our city and deported simply for finding themselves homeless.

“City Hall and its commissioned services will not collaborate with such draconian measures, which punish people simply for not having a home.”

Councillor Tom Renhard, cabinet member for housing delivery and homes at Bristol City Council, which has also signed up to the campaign, said he was “concerned” about the impact the Home Office’s new rules could have on vulnerable people.

“Committing to the Support don’t Deport campaign shows that we do not want anyone experiencing homelessness to be put off from seeking the help they need from the services provided by the council and our partners as a result of these rules,” he said.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who has also signed up to the campaign, said the new rules would “only serve to push people further away from support and leave them at greater risk of exploitation”.

A previous policy, whereby the Home Office worked with certain charities to identify rough sleepers from EU countries who were then removed from the UK, was ruled unlawful by the high court in December 2017.

Benjamin Morgan, research and communications coordinator at the Public Interest Law Centre, which is pursuing a legal challenge against the new rough sleeping rule, said the Support don’t Deport campaign did not go far enough.

“It’s encouraging to see councils and charities taking a public stand on this issue. However, given the hostile climate created by government policy, they need to be doing more to assert everyone’s basic right to shelter and a decent standard of living – regardless of immigration status,” he said.

“If the pledge to ‘support not deport’ is to be meaningful, councils must commit to offering all rough sleepers appropriate, rights-based support at a local level.”

Rick Henderson, chief executive at the national homelessness membership charity Homeless Link, which has coordinated the campaign, said: “The nuances and intricacies of policies like these often aren’t understood well on the ground.

“We fear that, if local authorities and homelessness charities don’t take a clear stand on this issue, fear around deportation could prevent many of society’s most vulnerable people from accessing support.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear the law on eligibility relating to immigration status has not changed and we expect councils to exhaust all options to support those unable to access homelessness assistance because of their status.

“Simply sleeping rough is not grounds for removal. The immigration rule will only be used as a last resort; it allows for permission to stay to be refused or cancelled when a person repeatedly refuses offers of suitable support and is engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour.”

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