On Wednesday 19 October 2022 I had the privilege of attending the WMCA Homelessness Taskforce NRPF and Homelessness at Birmingham Symphony Hall. The conference promised to be an insightful day bringing partners together to consider and explore regional approaches to designing out homelessness for non-UK nationals with no recourse or restricted eligibility to public funds (NRPF).
Travelling to the conference I was reflecting on my experience, having been working in the homelessness sector for five years now, in an administrative role, and thought about the times that I answered the phone to people who were experiencing homelessness or were at risk of being made homeless. I remembered those times when the person I was trying to give that information, advice or guidance to was someone with no recourse to public funds. It always felt like a stumbling block or barrier to the person getting the help and support they needed in a critical and vulnerable time in their life. Not really knowing myself who I could signpost them to or if they would be accepted into a service. So, I was really looking forward to the conference to gain a better understanding of the minefield that is the NRPF policy and to meet people who are supporting these individuals day to day and what avenues there are across the region to get support.
Welcoming us to the conference was Robin Brierley Executive Director of the West Midlands Anti Slavery Network, He set the scene for the day and the context for the agenda.
James Walker from the West Midlands Combined Authority is the Faith and Communities lead and shared with the group the West Midlands Combined Authority’s homelessness passport plan-on-a-page to design out homelessness and and why the region needs to improve the process and design out homelessness more effectively for people who have no recourse to public funds.
Spanning all of these points in the plan is the need to change the systems that are not preventing homelessness or relieving it.
We were given a really thorough run down of the situation for people in the West Midlands with no recourse to public funds, both historically and currently. Dr Andy Jolly, is a lecturer at the University of Plymouth and an honorary research fellow at Wolverhampton University’s Institute for Community Research and Development and who has conducted extensive research into the inequalities that families and individuals face as migrants to the UK shared with us the results of interim research into NRPF in the West Midlands. He touched upon the Local authorities’ responses to migrant people in the UK who are subject to the NRPF conditions during the “Everybody In” time of the pandemic. Dr Jolly looked not only at the barriers but also the good practice found before leading us into an interactive session about what examples of good practice there were in the region and nationally.
One example of good practice nationally is the No Recourse Early Action Model (NOREAM) in Hackney. NOREAM seeks to improve outcomes for children with NRPF through 7 support domains: immigration status; health and wellbeing; housing; food security; income and employment; education, training and leisure; and, support network and to improve value to the local authority by intervening early, before families are in crisis and need statutory support.
Another example is the A Bed Every Night scheme which is a commitment to provide a bed, welcome, hot meal and support for anyone sleeping rough in Greater Manchester.ABEN provides low barrier access to emergency accommodation, combined with support to address wider needs, and help to access more suitable move-on accommodation. The programme has played a key role in achieving dramatic reductions in rough sleeping
Really great talks followed. Dave Stamp, Immigration Law Practitioner, from ASIRT, a charity providing legal support and representation to asylum seekers and other undocumented migrants in the West Midlands. Dave spoke about the implications of the EU Settlement Scheme and the consequences of Britain leaving the EU.
Nick Walton, Adult Safeguarding Pathways Coordinator from the West Midlands Anti Slavery Network shared with us insights into slavery and trafficking across the West Midlands and recommendations of how we can move forward to support and protect those affected.
Members of the Central England Law Centre joined us to share with us research into Exhausting All Options. It was a
Legal Panel Discussion exploring:
• what can be done to support homeless migrants under Immigration, Health & Social Care, Public Law & Housing Law frameworks
• the road ahead under the Nationality & Borders Act 2022.
The knowledge in this group was amazing and really useful tips about navigating this tricky area, trying to support someone through the process of claiming asylum or right to remain.
Deborah shared with us why the forced condition of being someone with No Recourse to Public Funds is essentially racist and should be scrapped. The risks and impact of this condition are devastating.
For example, For renters with leave to remain who have NRPF, if they lose their job or face a loss in hours then they are unable to rely on Universal Credit. This means that renters with NRPF who have faced job losses or a reduction in hours are unlikely to have the financial assistance required from the government to help them cover their rent. With the rise of the cost of living during this turbulent time, and with the government’s financial support around energy not applying to businesses, the risks of unemployment are great.
The final organisation to share learning and best practice with us was Father Hudson’s Care who run various community based projects across the region aimed at supporting people who have no recourse.
Dave Newall, Project manager at Brushstrokes Community Project in Sandwell, shared in greater detail the amazing work they do to support families and individuals in Birmingham and the Black Country, especially asylum seekers and refugees with little or no access to public funding by providing practical resources of food, clothing and household essentials to people who are experiencing great need. Brushstrokes also provides advice and Social, educational and recreational activities
Jo then told us about the upcoming plans for Tabor Living, which is an accommodation project for rough sleepers. Tabor is currently located at St Anne’s in Digbeth, but it will be moving to St Catherine’s in the Horsefair area of central Birmingham, leasing part of the site to relocate and expand its services.
This will include emergency and move-on accommodation for up to 18 rough sleepers in need of support off the streets and people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. New community, activity and meetings areas are being created as part of this exciting new project.
The last activity of the day was to discuss with people on our respective tables about how we can incorporate the positive pathway to design out homelessness with supporting and preventing homelessness for people with No Recourse to Public Funds. Shared during the discussion feedback is http://migrantadvice.org a hub to access support and to better connect asylum, refugee and migrant services across Birmingham and the West Midlands. The directory is in its early stages of development but will definitely be a valuable resource
Ultimately, I came away from the conference with the sense that there were many many people in that room with a determination to provide the best possible support for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Compassion and equitability for all migrants was at the heart.
As Robin Brierley summed up as he closed the conference
”There’s a great bunch of people in this room, and together we definitely can make a difference”