Campaigners and local authority representatives have criticised the government for resurrecting a failed policy in its immigration bill, published last week.
The bill, which removes two key areas of support for failed asylum seekers, is likely to place new burdens on local authorities, which will have to support families who remain in the UK after their asylum claims have been refused.
The No Recourse to Public Funds Network (NRPFN) said that when families who remain in the UK without central government support become destitute, local authorities will be bound to support them by section 17 duties under the Children Act 1989.
The Centre on Migration, Policy & Society (COMPAS) said the removal of section 4 support and changes to eligibility under section 95 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act would set up a conflict between local authorities’ duties towards families and the goal of the legislation to return people who have been refused asylum.
Section 95 allows failed asylum seekers with children to continue to receive the same support once their asylum claim has been rejected. Section 4 of the act provides support for single adult failed asylum seekers and other categories of migrants. Support under both these sections comes from central, not local, government.
However, the bill states that those with children with them when their asylum claims and any appeals are rejected will “no longer be treated as though they were still asylum seekers and will cease to be eligible for support under section 95”. In addition, section 4 will be repealed and support will “only be available to failed asylum seekers and any dependent children if there is a practical obstacle that prevents them from leaving the UK”.
Shift in responsibility
COMPAS researcher Jonathan Price said the removal of this provision marked a shift in responsibility from central to local government.
“The government tried this approach before but it was abandoned because it was not seen as an effective way of getting families to leave the UK,” he said. “One outcome might be long-term unfunded support from the local authority.”
This point was echoed by the Refugee Council in its response to a consultation on the bill.
No more likely to return
“All available evidence suggests people whose support is cut off following a refusal of asylum are no more likely to return to their country of origin as a result,” it said.
“The proposals do not explain how removing access to basic support will assist in reducing the numbers of people who stay in the UK beyond the date of the final refusal of their asylum claim. It fails to engage with the circumstances people find themselves in.”
This was demonstrated when the Home Office piloted a similar approach to cutting support arrangements in 2005. The department’s own evaluation of the pilot showed it didn’t succeed in encouraging people to leave.
Kamena Dorling, policy manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said the pilot had the opposite effect.
“More families absconded and it also had a detrimental effect in terms of destitution. People will disappear because they have no support network and no reason to stay in touch with local authorities.”
Dorling said the policy was not only ethically problematic but it also did not achieve the policy aim of reducing the numbers of immigrants illegally remaining in the UK.
She said it was frustrating to see the government failing to learn from its past mistakes.
The Refugee Council said that while the government claimed its proposals were framed to avoid placing new burdens on local authorities, it was difficult to see how the removal of section 95 support would not have a “huge impact” on referrals to housing and children’s services.
The charity also said it was “startling” that the government failed to mention obligations towards children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and specific duties on the Home Office under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said central government was “turning a blind eye” to the pressures its plans would put on local authorities, and it needed a clear plan to remove families or fund their stay in the UK.
He said: “If you’re not going to remove people who you have decided do not have leave to remain in the UK, you need to fund their support for as long as they remain here.”
The bill will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 October.