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Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

The New Lockdown, Evictions and Rough Sleeping | Home Office and Rough Sleepers | Asylum Accommodation and the Hostile Environment

Right to a Home  |  Fri Jan 15 2021

New stay-at-home restrictions and protections for renters and rough sleepers

Governments across the UK announced a return of stay-at-home restrictions in the face of a new and more contagious Covid variant, but lagged on key protections like an explicit return of the springtime 'Everyone In' initiative to house rough sleepers and an extension of the 'Christmas truce' on enforcement of evictions.

Authorities in Scotland andWalesextended their ban on eviction order enforcement until the end of March; in England it was eventually moved to 21 February. More precariously for renters, here in NI there is no eviction ban, just an extension of the eviction notice period required of landlords to 12 weeks; that has now been extended to end March.

With the UK government initially claiming that no new wintertime measures were needed for rough sleepers, charities, local authorities, parliamentarians and others expressed fears that existing provisions for rough sleepers were insufficient to meet rising demand and excluded vulnerable groups like people with No Recourse to Public Funds. Finally on 8 January, the government in England allocated an additional £10m in funding to councils there to lodge rough sleepers and ensure they were registered with a GP for eventual vaccinations.

Home Office directive about foreign national rough sleepers

Local authorities including Haringey Council and the Greater London Authority have said that they will not cooperate with a Home Office effort to deport foreign nationals found sleeping rough. For its part Oxford City Council issued a press release stating that its homelessness services "will not cooperate with the Home Office over immigration enforcement" as it "believes that the new rules are in direct conflict with its promise to be a city of sanctuary for all of Oxford’s migrant communities." The Oxfordshire Homeless Movement has convened a coalition of organisations to support people with no recourse to public funds.

The underlying housing crisis

According to statistics highlighted in The Guardian, the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased by 83% since the election of a Tory government in 2010 while the number of children in temporary accommodation has risen by more than 75%. Shelter reported that over a quarter of a million people are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation, and that the economic fallout from the ongoing pandemic risks 'turbo-charging' this crisis. The Health Foundation published analysis of how factors like cramped and overcrowded living conditions and shared housing arrangements have compounded the risk of Covid transmission.

Asylum accommodation and the hostile environment

The High Court ruled that the Home Office was in breach of its duties to protect the human rights of asylum seekers against homelessness -- this is due to its failures to monitor the operations of private firms contracted to manage asylum accommodation.  The Guardian reported calls for full and independent investigations following FOI findings that at least 29 people seeking asylum died in Home Office accommodation in 2020. This occurred in the context of a deepening hostile environment: on 10 December the Home Office set out new rules - in force from 1 January 2021 -  preventing people from making an asylum claim in the UK if they have passed through a safe third country and giving the Home Office power to remove people seeking asylum to a safe country that agrees to receive them, even if they have never been there or have any connections to it.  The Immigration Minister announced plans for legislation that, further, would bar people from claiming asylum if they had been intercepted at sea by Border Force vessels.

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