As of 1 December, new grounds will allow UK officials to cancel or refuse a person’s permission to stay in the UK where they are satisfied that “a person has been rough sleeping”.
A group of local law centres convened by the Good Law Project have warned that the powers to deport people who rough sleep could be used unlawfully against people made unemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as those escaping domestic violence, trafficking, gang violence or even terrorism.
A large proportion of people who rough sleep are foreign nationals (53% in Southwark, south London), and these new rules leave them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation as they are deterred from getting proper help from local authorities. In fact, despite the aim to reduce rough sleeping, the rules would increase it. Bethan McGovern, Southwark Law Centre, said: “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.”.
The Good Law Project also said that the policy breaches the European Convention on Human Rights because it discriminates against foreigners and gives too much discretion to the 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.”
The Mayor of London and a group of 78 homeless organisations have already written a letter to the Home Secretary demanding that the rules be reversed. Sadiq Khan labelled the rules “deeply immoral”, and warned that they would set a “dangerous precedent”: “the injustice and cruelty exhibited by the proposed new immigration laws is a chilling reminder of how the most vulnerable people in our society can be targeted when those in power don’t believe anyone will notice or care.”
Fears for rough sleepers have already been raised about a lack of measures in place to protect rough sleepers during the second lockdown, with charities calling for a re-introduction that housed homeless people during the first months of the pandemic. The new rules represent a huge step backward from a government who vowed to end rough sleeping, given that such a positive change was made by the scheme during the first national lockdown.
The Home Office has stated that rough sleepers will only be refused leave to remain if they refused offers of support and were engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour, and that the new provision will be used “sparingly”. A spokesperson for the Home Office has said that “[t]his year alone, we have provided over £700m in funding to support rough sleepers.”. They maintain that removal would be a last resort measure taken after the individual has been asked to leave voluntarily with government support.
Stella Maris Solicitors LLP are experts in immigration and housing law and can help you if you have been affected by the issues in this article, or if you have any other queries or concerns. Contact us via telephone on 01793 296118, or email at email@example.com.