New rules on removing foreign rough sleepers from UK face legal challenge


Home Office rules allowing the removal of foreign rough sleepers from the UK starting next month are unlawful, legal campaigners have claimed.

New grounds for refusing permission to stay in the UK where officials are “satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping” must be scrapped, a legal challenge argues.

A coalition of local law centres that help homeless people, convened by the Good Law Project, a not-for-profit group, have warned the home secretary, Priti Patel, that the powers could be used unlawfully against people made unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic and those escaping domestic violence, trafficking, gang violence or even terrorism abroad.

It was “hypocritical” of the home secretary to bring in such measures having this summer promised a new “compassionate” stance from the Home Office following the Windrush scandal, the Good Law Project said.

The organisations listed real-life examples where they fear vulnerable people could lose their right to remain in the UK. They included a woman sleeping rough after fleeing the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, a mentally ill man embroiled in gang life who was on the streets because he was trying to escape, and a pub worker who had had a room as part of their job but lost it when they were made redundant owing to the lockdown.

The groups also said that despite the aim to reduce rough sleeping, the measure would increase it. “The prospect of permission to be in the UK being cancelled or refused, we think, will deter people from seeking assistance from local authorities and charities and could lead them into greater danger,” said Bethan McGovern, of the Southwark Law Centre.

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“This could push people into the hands of those who would exploit them, including traffickers. In the coming months we are going to see lots of people who have never been on the streets before. There’s a high risk of homeless women being offered a place to stay and forced into prostitution.”

More than half (53%) of rough sleepers in the south London borough of Southwark in April to June were foreign nationals.

The groups also said the policy breaches the European convention on human rights because it discriminates against foreigners and gives too much discretion to officials applying it. “Someone who simply misses their last train home and spends the night in the train station would fall foul of the [rule],” they said. It could even result in the removal of people living as “property guardians” in vacant commercial buildings because they are not designed for habitation.

Last week Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and homelessness charities called for the home secretary to reverse the rules.

Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project, said: “These measures will make people even less likely to seek help to get off the street. As we enter the second wave of this deadly pandemic, it is completely inhumane and in our view unlawful to cut vulnerable people off from support.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “For the small minority of EEA [European Economic Area] migrant rough sleepers who continue to refuse government and local authority support and repeatedly engage in persistent antisocial behaviour, the new immigration reforms mean they could lose their right to be in the UK. This would be a last-resort measure, and initially individuals would be asked to leave voluntarily with government support. In the event that they refuse, we may take the step to remove them.”

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They said the rules would not apply to people who have successfully applied to continue living in the UK under the EU settlement scheme.



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