The number of clients with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) has been growing rapidly, placing increasing service and financial pressure on London boroughs. This is a particularly acute issue for London and has been caused by a range of factors including government policy, EU case law and broader socio-economic conditions.
This briefing outlines the key findings from research undertaken by London Councils to establish the nature and extent of the financial impact on London boroughs, and outlines a range of proposed actions to help alleviate the financial pressure on London local government.
What is No Recourse to Public Funds?
NRPF refers to people subject to immigration controls and who have no entitlement to public funds. This means they have no entitlement to the majority of welfare benefits, including income support, housing benefit and a range of allowances and tax credits.
NRPF individuals can, nevertheless, be eligible for assistance from their local authorities for a range of services including education and social care. Local authorities have this responsibility under the National Assistance Act 1948, the Children Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that, should a child dependent on an adult with NRPF become destitute, or an adult be in need of care provided by the local authority, there may still be an entitlement to some form of assistance.
Consequently, boroughs are often left with the responsibility to provide for subsistence and accommodation needs that, under different circumstances, would be centrally funded. At the moment, local authorities receive no funding for these costs.
There is no single data source which provides a comprehensive national view of local government expenditure (or activity) on NRPF clients. Previous estimates of the annual cost to London boroughs have relied on NRPF Connect data (a national database to which not all authorities are signed up). In March this year, the 17 London boroughs using this system reported around 1,500 households receiving some form of support from London boroughs, at an annual cost of over £25 million.
London Councils conducted further research over the summer to establish a strong evidence base and fully articulate the level and nature of the financial impact on London local government. This included establishing the extent of expenditure beyond accommodation and subsistence support, as well as service pressures over time.
Some of the key headlines from this work include:
- London boroughs spent an estimated £50 million in 2014/15 on NRPF in support of an estimated 3,200 cases during the year.
- Pressures are not uniform across London, with boroughs in south east London reporting expenditure and cases significantly above the London average, although the pressures faced by other boroughs are also considerable.
- These cases had an estimated 4,600 school-age children which, because of their status, do not attract the Pupil Premium. This represents an estimated £5 million loss to London’s schools.
- The average annual cost per case was around £19,000. Average case costs ranged between £16,000 and £26,000 for the majority of respondents, with some boroughs facing unit costs beyond these amounts.
- Average time spent supporting cases is around two years, although there is considerable variation between boroughs reflecting the nature and complexity of the cases.
- Expenditure incurred by respondents was primarily on accommodation, with around 74 per cent of reported spend, subsistence (10 per cent), employee costs (11 per cent) and other (5 per cent).
- Support is primarily provided through duties aligned with Children’s Services, with the vast majority (80 per cent) of clients supported through S17 of the Children Act, and for Adults with Care Needs and the Mental Health Act, 10 per cent each respectively.
- In-line with national research on NRPF, there was a high degree of consistency in responses across boroughs in terms of the principle countries of origin of clients: Nigeria, Jamaica and Ghana.
Growth in demand
The number of reported cases of clients with NRPF is increasing. The research highlighted that many boroughs had set up dedicated NRPF teams and/or posts in response to this growing pressure. Similarly, many boroughs reported significant increases in numbers over the past two years. By way of illustration, one borough saw a rise from 29 reported cases in 2012 to 88 cases in 2014.
The research found a number of common reasons cited for current and future demand pressures across London. These include, but are not limited to:
Home Office policy:
The majority of NRPF cases are supported by local authorities pending the outcome of immigration decisions made by the Home Office. Local authorities can become tied to long periods of support if decisions on applications for Leave to Remain (LTR) are not decided expediently. London Councils’ survey found the average length of support by London boroughs is around two years; this is despite evidence cited by the NRPF Network that 99 per ent of cases ultimately resulted in the granting of leave to remain in 2014/15. This leaves many families in need of support from local authorities where accommodation costs are unaffordable and, due to the NRPF condition, there is no eligible support for housing benefit.
Other policies were also cited, including immigration health charges, NHS debts and application fees, which are barriers to asserting rights to remain, and which result in clients spending a prolonged time in receipt of local authority support.
There are also issues for local authorities when LTR with recourse to public funds is granted through delays in transitioning families to mainstream support. In these cases local authorities need to provide support in the interim.
The introduction of landlord checks and evictions for those with no right to stay, reduced employment opportunities for undocumented migrants and the proposed changes to financial support for failed asylum seekers, all mean an increase in the likelihood of those affected needing local authority support.
It may be the case that some individuals who have previously been supported by friends or family in terms of accommodation (such as the use of a spare room) are no longer able to access this support. Welfare benefit eligibility restrictions for EEA nationals made in April 2014 mean that these families are increasingly turning to local authorities for support, which must be provided if this is necessary to prevent a breach of their European Community Treaty rights or human rights.
Accommodation and employment:
A lack of affordable housing options in London means there are issues with transitioning those households granted LTR with mainstream support, given the significant gaps between LHA rates and private market rents in the capital. There are similar issues with finding suitable accommodation within London boroughs for NRPF supported clients. This has led to some boroughs having to place some households out of London. Similarly, where LTR is granted without recourse to public funds for those with childcare responsibilities, finding suitable employment opportunities is challenging. This can be the case in particular for Zambrano carers of a British child3 and can mean a prolonged time in receipt of local authority support.
London Councils officers have continued to develop the programme of work agreed by Leaders in March of this year. In addition to the recent survey, officers have:
- put pressure on central government to accelerate discussions on funding through greater dialogue with Home Office and DCLG officials to further their understanding of the issues around NRPF;
- highlighted the cost and service pressures as part of our SR15 submission, and by sharing research findings with, and helping to facilitate work between, government officials and boroughs;
- continued to engage central government officials through the NRPF Steering Group – a forum that brings together senior officials across central and local government to discuss issues of strategic and operational importance in relation to NRPF - to influence current Home Office policies and practices;
- worked closely with other stakeholders to develop a strong evidence base that fully articulates the level and nature of the financial impact on London local government, which included holding a roundtable event to facilitate learning; and
- raised awareness and understanding of NRPF as an issue through press article in Public Finance magazine and the Local Government Chronicle.
It is clear that the issue of NRPF affects both local and central government. While the Home Office retains responsibility for decision making, the financial cost currently falls on local government, particularly in London. Arguably, a more holistic view of the system is required.
NRPF places a significant – and growing – financial and operational pressure on London boroughs. This pressure needs to be recognised by government and sufficient funding provided to support local authorities.
Home Office practices and policies can severely affect local authorities supporting those with NRPF. Authorities depend on Home Office decision making. Any delays in granting leave or implementing removal decisions where appeals have been exhausted increase pressure on local authority resources.
There is potential for clearer guidance and consistency in current Home Office policy and processes that would minimise the number of disputes with local authorities. One such area is in the inconsistent interpretation of the definition of destitution being worked to by local authorities and the Home Office for the purpose of granting recourse to public funds.
Officers will continue to raise awareness of this issue with government and in particular highlight the growing cost pressures facing London boroughs at a time of continued funding reductions. Spending Review 2015 is a prime opportunity for government to recognise these pressures and to fund local authorities appropriately.