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All homeless people can be housed during pandemic, court rules

Campaigners hail ‘victory for common sense’ after landmark High Court ruling finds rough sleepers who are ineligible for support due to immigration status can be accommodated in the Everyone In scheme

Homelessness campaigners have hailed a landmark court ruling that could stop rough sleepers who are not eligible for council support from being turned away from accommodation during the pandemic.

Thursday’s High Court judgement means Brighton and Hove City Council can accommodate former asylum seeker Timon Ncube, who told the court he had fled Zimbabwe following threats from the country’s government, as part of the Everyone In scheme after he was refused help in September last year.

Mr Ncube had previously been denied asylum and was sleeping rough near Brighton’s railway station after being unable to work, claim state benefits or local authority homelessness support due to his immigration status. He told the court his “mental health had deteriorated” while he was sleeping rough.

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People living under the so-called no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition can now legally be supported by councils during the pandemic after the High Court ruling “removed ambiguity” according to housing charity Shelter.

“Too many peoples’ lives have been put at risk sleeping rough because councils don’t think they meet the criteria for support,” said Shelter chief executive Polly Neate. “Our services have seen first-hand the cruel impact of ‘Everyone In’ not always meaning everyone. 

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 “This judgment removes any doubt: councils should not be leaving people on the streets. As long as this emergency persists, the legal powers are there to protect everyone from the dangers of rough sleeping.  

“In a crisis of this magnitude access to emergency accommodation is no longer up for debate. The government now needs to issue explicit guidance to councils that anyone who needs it, must be provided with a safe place to stay.”   

Campaigners have called for the Westminster Government to suspend the no recourse to public funds condition during the pandemic with protection from Covid-19 for those driven to destitution up to local authorities’ discretion.

There are nearly 1.4 million people living under the condition in the UK, according to research conducted by the The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford on behalf of Citizens Advice.

Mel Steel, the director of Voices in Exile, a charity supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Brighton and Hove, said the ruling is a “victory for common sense”.

Steel said: “We believe the council got this badly wrong. They should have intervened earlier to protect the wider public in Brighton and understood the principles of the ‘Everyone In’ programme – restricting community transmissions, protecting the NHS and saving lives.” 

The ruling could have repercussions for local authorities who have turned rough sleepers away believing they were ineligible for support during the year in which the Everyone In scheme has been in operation.

In a crisis of this magnitude access to emergency accommodation is no longer up for debate

More than 37,000 people have been protected from the virus in hotels and emergency accommodation under the scheme.

Responding to the ruling, councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones, joint-chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s housing committee, told The Big Issue the local authority “welcomed the ruling” and called on the Westminster Government to provide guidance on the matter.

Cllr Hugh-Jones said : “We would have preferred the government to act on our call to suspend the restrictions on assisting those with NRPF. But the court’s clarification of exactly where councils are able to offer assistance is helpful.

“We intend to use those additional powers where appropriate in all future work involving people with NRPF.

“In this case, the court also agreed with our view that the responsibility for accommodating the individual concerned lay with the Home Office rather than the council.”

The Conservative Government has vowed to end rough sleeping by 2024 and has hailed the impact of the Everyone In scheme during the pandemic.

Homelessness charities, councils and migrant campaigners have warned the government suspending the no recourse to public fund policy would “ease pressures on homelessness services”.

However, new Home Office rules, which came into force on December 1 last year, consider rough sleeping as basis for cancellation of permission to stay in the country, leaving non-UK nationals at risk of deportation.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office have both been approached for comment.

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