Home Office continues to target homeless migrants

"It is time to end these ‘hostile environment’ policies and ensure that our Government provides adequate support to everyone, regardless of immigration status." Immigration lawyer Lauren Butler explains how the new immigration rules, set to come into force on 1 December, will affect migrant rough sleepers. 

Sleeping rough in London
Lauren Butler

It is a criminal offence to sleep rough in England and Wales, thanks to the Vagrancy Act 1824. Not incidentally, this old statute was passed during a period of increased immigration and contains a lot of withering language around ‘rogues and vagabonds’ found ‘wandering abroad’.  

Instead of heeding recent calls to repeal the Vagrancy Act, the Government has now introduced new penalties for non-British citizens found sleeping rough. In the Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules: HC 813, 22 October 2020, due to come into effect on 1 December 2020, the Secretary of State sets out that:

9.21.1. Permission to stay may be refused where the decision maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK.

9.21.2. Where the decision maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK any permission held by the person may be cancelled.

The statement of changes defines ‘rough sleeping’ as “sleeping, or bedding down, in the open air” or any other place “not designed for habitation”.  (Let’s draw a veil against the Home Office’s recent use of shipping containers to accommodate newly arrived refugees.)

There is no time limit on historic rough sleeping—presumably anyone who has ever slept rough will be liable for refusal or cancellation.

Paragraph 9.1.1 indicates that asylum seekers and those with protection status (asylum, humanitarian protection) will be exempted from this, as will persons applying under most ‘private life’ categories.

This leaves many others still vulnerable to the new law. The remit is shockingly broad as it refers to any sleeping or bedding down in any place “not designed for habitation”. A foreign scientist working late, who decides to sleep in the lab, could have her residence permit revoked. The dependent of a foreign student, caught camping in a park after a family quarrel, could have all future visa applications refused. 

Currently those with temporary status in the UK are often subject to a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition barring them from financial and housing support—making it more likely in fact that they will end up sleeping rough.  Private rentals are impossible for those unable to prove their immigration status. 

As we have seen in recent years, increasing punitive legislation only drives the most vulnerable further underground.  It is time to end these ‘hostile environment’ policies and ensure that our Government provides adequate support—including independent legal advice—to everyone, regardless of immigration status. 

Lauren Butler is Head of Immigration at the Manchester branch of Fountain Solicitors