The No Recourse to Public Funds project is a partnership between Commonweal Housing and Praxis Community Projects – a leading organisation supporting migrants and refugees, based in East London. The project aims to provide cross-subsidised housing for destitute migrants, such as those seeking asylum, victims of trafficking or domestic violence and those seeking status based on human rights applications.
There are a myriad of reasons why someone may have insecure immigration status, even if they have a strong case to remain. Applying for leave to remain in the UK is a long, tortuous and labyrinthine process, especially if English is not your first language. Applicants often lack good legal advice to navigate this bewildering system, which not only lengthens the process further but can also lead to incorrect asylum decisions which are then open to appeal.
During the months it takes to process a claim or an appeal against a previous decision, applicants are neither allowed to find work to support themselves, nor access any state benefits. Utterly excluded from access to the social safety net, they are left with nothing – not even access to temporary hostels or local authority-run refuges. The only group who can access some form of state housing are destitute migrant families with children. Under Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, local authorities have a statutory duty to house migrant families where a child would otherwise become homeless, but often this means housing families in cramped, unsanitary hostels or bed & breakfasts, at considerable cost.
The NRPF project seeks to address this humanitarian crisis, through an innovative new cross-subsidy model of shared accommodation, which seeks to meet several critical housing needs simultaneously.
The NRPF Model
In 2015, Commonweal secured new social investment from a range of funders worth some £2.3 million, enabling the purchase of seven properties for the NRPF project. These properties were then leased to our delivery partner, Praxis Community Projects, who have the responsibility for day-to-day housing management and maintenance, as well as providing specialist immigration advice and other support to service users.
Praxis in turn offers these properties to local authorities, who use them to house destitute migrant families who they have a duty to accommodate under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This way, local authorities are able to house families in good-quality, supported accommodation instead of B&Bs and hostels.
The income received enables Praxis to then provide a smaller number of free bed spaces to destitute migrants with no recourse to public funds, thus protecting them from rough sleeping and homelessness. This free accommodation is sourced from within the initial portfolio, either as individual bedrooms within properties shared with migrant families, or in a separate house subsidised by the project. Accommodation is offered to migrants who Praxis believes have a good chance of a positive outcome for their immigration application, if provided with appropriate support and legal advice.
During their time in accommodation, Praxis provides wrap-around support, workshops, and expert legal advice to service users in progressing their immigration applications or appeals.
In 2016 – the first full year of the project – the NRPF project provided a total of 10,348 nights of safe accommodation, mostly to vulnerable mothers and their children.
Evaluation and key aims
The NRPF project, like all Commonweal projects, is subject to a detailed on-going appraisal and review, with the project evaluators working closely with the project at all stages from design to implementation. For this project, Commonweal appointed an experienced evaluation team, consisting of the independent housing, migration and service provision consultants Ceri Hutton, Sue Lukes, and Heather Petch. These experts provide their critical insight, advice, and extensive experience of the sector to the project at regular intervals, ensuring both that the project has reserves of knowledge to draw upon in adapting to challenges, and that lessons and learnings are captured at every stage of the project.
The key aims of the pilot are to test:
- Whether a sustainable business model can be delivered, that is able to cross-subside the provision of free NRPF destitution accommodation.
- Whether the provision of additional support from a secure accommodation base enables destitute migrants to make successful new applications or appeals whilst building their self-confidence and wellbeing.
- Whether the provision of S.17 accommodation by specialist asylum and migration support organisations (such as Praxis), and the added value they might bring to the service, offers an attractive and replicable model for local authorities to use.
- Whether the empathetic support available to S.17 clients has a positive impact on their wellbeing, confidence and ability to settle in this country.
- Whether provision of specialist support and advocacy alongside the S.17 accommodation results in faster / better decisions by the Home Office.
- The costs, management and support structures needed to deliver a successful model and to capture with Praxis a clear ‘how to’ summary of the model, enabling other organisations to replicate the model (where it is successful) or to learn from and adapt the model to best meet their local circumstances.
The initial interim project evaluation is scheduled to be published in June 2018.
What’s been really beneficial is that Commonweal has such a strong interest and passion to tackle social injustice. We got involved in this project because mainstream homelessness agencies and housing organisations actually weren’t interested in trying to resolve what is a huge and growing problem. The fact that Commonweal is bold and actually wants to find solutions is great.”
Sally Daghlian OBE – Chief Executive, Praxis Community Projects
Kwame is a 31 year-old male who comes from Ghana. He arrived in the UK with his mother in 1994 when he was 12. His mother made an application for asylum, which was refused. She was subsequently removed from the UK, however Kwame was not. Instead he was taken care of by a neighbour whilst an appeal was lodged.
His case was lost in the UK Border Agency backlog (eventually known as Legacy cases) – cases that were started and due a response before 2007. In the meantime, Kwame established his life in the UK. He met his wife and had two children, all the while supporting himself by doing cash-in-hand work.
Kwame lodged a Human Rights application in 2008 based on the Right to Family Life to ensure that should the Home Office decide he can remain in the UK, his family would also be able to remain. Kwame and his family were renting a house found for them through his church until recently when his landlady told him he had to leave.
At this point he sought housing advice from Praxis, and discovered that his landlady was subletting illegally from an estate agent. Although the situation was discussed with the landlady, she refused any compromise or negotiations. The letting agent was made aware of the situation and so were the Police.
Unfortunately it was too late for Kwame and his family as the landlady changed the locks whilst they were out and removed all their belongings to a storage space. Praxis provided Kwame and his family with accommodation in their temporary accommodation for people with NRPF, during which time his caseworker at Praxis requested an emergency assessment under S. 17 of the Children Act.
As a result of Praxis’ intervention, social services subsequently accommodated Kwame and his family pending the outcome of his Human Rights application.