More support needed for people made destitute by the immigration system

COSLA has today (Wednesday) launched new guidance on migrants’ rights to services provided by local authorities in Scotland. The resource is intended to support councils as they seek to support people whose immigration status means they can’t access public funds. 

Under UK-wide rules, people living in the UK with an insecure immigration status are unable to access social security and homelessness assistance, even in times of crisis. Scottish Local Government has a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable people in these situations, in many cases this includes providing financial support to meet essential living costs and other help from social workers to avoid destitution.

Scottish Councils are delivering lifeline services for families with children; women who have become destitute after fleeing abuse; adults in need of residential care who are unable to leave the UK because of the severity of their physical and mental health conditions; and former Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking children who have been refused refugee status in the UK but have a right to appeal or barriers to returning to their country of origin.

Figures from across the UK (including councils in Scotland) suggest that local authorities face a £63m funding gap for providing this kind of emergency assistance. This doesn’t include the costs of staff time spent working with legal advisors and communicating with the Home Office to help to resolve people’s immigration claims.

In some cases, local authorities are prohibited from providing any form of assistance, including emergency shelter, to people who do not have recourse to public funds.

Two thirds of households that councils support are likely to eventually be granted leave to remain in the UK with recourse to public funds, meaning that the vast majority of people we support will ultimately be recognised as having the right to remain in the UK.

Commenting at the national launch event, Councillor Kelly Parry, COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson said:

"The advice we are launching today provides a new tool to assist local authorities as they respond to this challenging, and distressing, area of service provision.

"Councils do a tough job supporting families on already stretched budgets. But Local Government can’t tackle destitution on its own, and it is unsustainable for councils to provide a vital safety net with no extra resources to assist them.

"COSLA has previously written to the Immigration Minister to ask her to change this approach and will be taking these issues for urgent discussion with the Leaders of Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities."

Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, MSP, said:

"We have worked jointly with COSLA to fund and commission this guidance, enabling local authorities to understand the complex legal frameworks that shape people’s eligibility to access public funds.

"I very much appreciate the efforts local authorities make to provide support to people within the constraints of existing UK immigration rules and in recognition of people’s human rights. This new guidance will be a valuable tool for local authority officers supporting destitute people, including those with children and survivors of domestic abuse.

"No guidance, however comprehensive, can solve all of the challenges which face local authorities as a result of UK Government immigration policies. In 2019, we will work with partners to develop our anti-destitution strategy that better supports statutory agencies and our community partners - reducing the risks of destitution among people with no recourse to public funds living in Scotland."

Article published: 
Wed, 27/02/2019 - 12:52