“Damaging” immigration rules will deter some rough sleepers from seeking help and could push them into modern slavery and other exploitative work, charities have warned.
Sixty homelessness and human rights organisations have come together to condemn an “inhumane” Government policy introduced to deport homeless people who are not UK nationals.
They are concerned that such rough sleepers – particularly victims of modern slavery – will fear they will be viewed as criminals rather than victims of crime, deterring them from getting help.
It comes as more than 3,000 people were seen rough sleeping on the capital’s streets during the third coronavirus lockdown, figures show.
Some 3,002 rough sleepers were identified by outreach teams in London between January and March, according to data from the Combined Homelessness And Information Network (Chain).
More than half (52%) of these were sleeping rough for the first time, and 11% were known to be permanently living on London’s streets, the figures show.
The Home Office strategy was brought in last year as part of changes to the immigration system amid the Government’s bid for tougher border restrictions and a “firmer and fairer” system after Brexit.
The plan means EU citizens found rough sleeping could be removed from the country if they refuse support, such as the offer of accommodation and benefits, from authorities, as is already the case for non-EU citizens found on the streets.
Guidance published in April as the policy was put into practice said the rules applied to applications made “on or after December 1 2020 and decisions to cancel taken on or after December 1 2020”.
But the document added that the rules were changed on April 6 to “clarify that permission may only be refused or cancelled where a person has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour”.
Charities have repeatedly called on the Government to scrap the plans.
The publication of the Home Office guidance has done nothing to alleviate their concerns, the 60 UK organisations said.
In a joint statement, they wrote: “Everyone in our society should have a safe place to live and no one should be punished for experiencing homelessness.
“This policy undermines this principle.
“It is inhumane and will make non-UK nationals in vulnerable circumstances fearful of asking for the support they need to get off the streets.
“It puts people at risk of exploitative work, accommodation, and potentially modern slavery, to avoid sleeping rough and putting themselves at threat of removal from the country.”
They are calling on the Government to scrap the “damaging” rules immediately.
Homeless groups brand Home Office rough sleeping deportation plans ‘inhumane’ https://t.co/ozhlClJk3k via @BigIssue— The Medaille Trust (@MedailleTrust) May 7, 2021
“Government policy will deter some rough sleepers from seeking help & could push them into #modernslavery” pic.twitter.com/av18M6QELF
Big Issue Scotland Tweeted: “‘The guidance does nothing to put our fears to rest’ More than 60 homelessness and human rights groups are urging the Home Office to scrap ‘inhumane’ rules that mean non-UK rough sleepers could be deported.”
‘The guidance does nothing to put our fears to rest’ More than 60 homelessness and human rights groups are urging the Home Office to scrap ‘inhumane’ rules that mean non-UK rough sleepers could be deported.https://t.co/c5AaQUQTaL— Big Issue Scotland (@BigIssueScots) May 7, 2021
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis and a signatory, said: “We are deeply concerned that these new rules will push people away from seeking support, and into the hands of criminals seeking to exploit them.
“The guidance released by the Home Office over how they will be used does nothing to allay our fears.
“There have been huge strides made in tackling rough sleeping over the past year, with thousands of people moved from the streets and into safe, self-contained accommodation. These changes threaten to undermine that progress.”
On May 4th Sadiq Khan Tweeted: “Bold action we’ve taken on homelessness has helped 11,000 roughsleepers – with over 80% off the streets for good. Organisations like @Street_Buddies in Westminster are central to these efforts. If re-elected I’ll continue to support their vital work.”
Bold action we’ve taken on homelessness has helped 11,000 rough sleepers – with over 80% off the streets for good.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) May 4, 2021
Organisations like @Street_Buddies in Westminster are central to these efforts. If re-elected I’ll continue to support their vital work.#VoteLabour? #TeamKhan ? pic.twitter.com/5UpG1GNK4e
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has made clear that no-one should be without a roof over their head. We have provided unprecedented funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, committing over £750 million this year.
“Simply sleeping rough is not grounds for removal.
“The immigration rule, which is discretionary and is only to be used as a last resort, 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.”