Councils refuse to comply with Home Office’s hostile environment policy to share rough sleeper data

Policy to obtain personal data on right sleepers through charities condemned as an invasion of privacy

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 19 July 2019 10:57 BST
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A number of councils, including Haringey, Islington and Oxford, have now said they will not comply with the policy unless explicit consent has been given from the individuals
A number of councils, including Haringey, Islington and Oxford, have now said they will not comply with the policy unless explicit consent has been given from the individuals (Getty)

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Local councils have refused to share the personal data of rough sleepers with the Home Office because they say they do not wish to comply with the government’s hostile environment practices.

Campaigners have previously condemned a recently revealed Home Office policy to use homelessness charities to obtain sensitive personal data that could result in the deportation of non-UK rough sleepers.

A number of councils, including Haringey, Islington and Oxford, have now said they will not comply with the policy unless explicit consent has been given from the individuals.

Haringey council announced this on Tuesday, saying they held a position of “non-cooperation and non-complicity with the hostile environment”.

Cllr Emine Ibrahim, cabinet member for housing and estate renewal, said: “We know that working with [immigration enforcement teams] detrimentally affects our relationships with some of the most vulnerable people on our streets.

“Our homelessness services will never pass on people’s personal data to the Home Office without their explicit consent. We believe this is a contravention of their right to privacy and has little effect on their exit from street homelessness, which is the sole reason for our work with them.”

Ms Ibrahim added that while the council did help people experiencing homelessness return to their home countries, they would only do this with their explicit permission and when a package of support and transition have been developed with them.

David Lammy, the borough's local MP, said: "Proud that my constituency’s council is refusing to be complicit in the government’s hostile environment policy. Proof of a valiant community protecting its people from persecution. This is how you stand up to power."

Islington council housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward said the council would not be cooperating with the Home Office enforcement teams and that they had a been “unequivocal in our opposition to this practice”.

He added: “Rough sleeping is a complex issue, and the council's priority will always be getting people into safe, secure accommodation and giving them the support they need to move off the streets.

”The work we do is based on trust. Its success depends on our ability to gain, nurture and maintain the trust of the rough sleepers we work with, who are often extremely vulnerable, hesitant to seek help, and sometimes traumatised.”

Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing at Oxford City Council, said: “Our homelessness services will never pass on people’s personal data to the Home Office without their explicit consent.

"The day services we fund are open to everybody sleeping rough. This winter, we aim to provide winter-long emergency shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness – whatever their immigration status.”

A statement from a network of homelessness support groups, including the Outside Project and the Museum of Homelessness, welcomed the councils’ public confirmation that they would not cooperate with the Home Office.

“The hostile environment is killing the most vulnerable people. Cuts to services that our lives depend on and restrictions on who can access those services, through imaginary borders, has left people to die on the streets,” the statement read.

“These councils do not want organisations within their local authority areas to be complicit with the most disgraceful practice of targeting homeless people for deportation. They will not be part of this hostile environment.”

The Home Office established the programme, called the Rough Sleeping Support Service (RSSS), last year and it was exposed in the Observer earlier this month.

A previous plan to deport EU rough sleepers was deemed unlawful and discriminatory by the High Court 18 months ago.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the councils’ statements and have been clear that the RSSS is not using charities or local authorities to target rough sleepers.

“The RSSS was established last year to help non-UK nationals sleeping rough resolve their immigration cases and access the support that they need.

“Charities and local authorities use the service on an entirely voluntary basis and no information is passed to the Home Office for assistance without their knowledge.”

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