Islington LBC has hosted the national No Recourse to Public Funds Network since 2006. It provides detailed practice guidance and training on NRPF service provision.
- Project: Web tool: support for migrant families
- Objectives: To provide a free resource to help social services adhere to statutory child safeguarding duties when providing safety net support to destitute migrant families
- Timescale: Six months from concept to delivery of product; funding covers technical support and periodic updating for a further 2.5 years
- Cost to authority: No cost as staff time has been funded by part of the grant obtained by Compas
- Number of staff working on project: One project officer (50 days initial development) with some input from team members
- Outcomes: An accessible web tool that practitioners in all local authorities can use to help guide assessments of need and resolve supported cases
- Officer contact details: Catherine Houlcroft
Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a statutory duty on councils to safeguard the welfare of children in need of accommodation and/or financial assistance where their parents have NRPF, which means they are excluded from mainstream welfare and housing benefits.
Councils have seen a diversification in the families that have NRPF due to immigration policy developments. For example, in 2012 the Home Office extended the use of the NRPF condition, so people granted leave to remain on the basis of their family or private life who were previously granted recourse will have NRPF unless they can show they are destitute. Therefore local authorities are now supporting many more people who are lawfully present than they previously did. Councils are now providing safety net support to families with: leave to remain; British children; or no immigration permission where arrangements to leave or applications to the Home Office to stay in the UK have been made.
Forty-one councils are using the NRPF Connect database, part of the network, to support 1,823 NRPF families and 3,899 dependants, costing £29m per year, which is a significant financial pressure on local government.
Although Islington LBC and many other councils have adopted models of best practice, ensuring safeguarding duties are maintained and reducing expenditure through expedient case resolution, a report published in 2015 by the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at Oxford University found that this is “a dysfunctional system in which children are the ultimate losers”.
The report, Safeguarding Children from Destitution, identified significant variation in practice across councils and a lack of understanding of the complex law governing eligibility for support. We know from experience that if practitioners don’t understand the legislation, they may not apply it correctly and if there is no oversight of these cases and staff don’t understand immigration processes, the cases won’t be progressed so support may be provided for much longer than it needs to be, which is costly for the council and not in the best interests of the child.
Compas was awarded a charitable grant of £58,000 by the Legal Education Foundation in order to develop a web tool in partnership with the NRPF Network to address these problems.
The NRPF Network will now provide access to an additional resource that enables council practitioners such as social workers, voluntary sector workers advising families and those families themselves to navigate the complex criteria that might make them eligible for support. Social workers often work out of the office and deal with crisis situations, so we designed the web tool to be compatible with smartphones and tablets so they can access the information instantly.
Council social workers using the tool progress through a series of questions about their service users’ immigration status. Once the questions are completed, the tool provides the social worker with advice specific to a person’s immigration status, including potential eligibility for welfare benefits, key aspects of the law governing social services’ support and tips for case resolution.
Families themselves and voluntary sector advisers can use the tool to ensure the family approaches or is referred to the right service and is prepared for what information social services may ask for if they request help. It also allows practitioners to email advice to themselves or service users and the tool does not collect or store personal data.
The end product was more comprehensive than initially anticipated because there were more than 200 different permutations of advice social workers could give to the person in question. This made designing the pathway through questions very challenging but we decided not to compromise on content to ensure we delivered a useful and high-quality product that would demystify how immigration status affects a family’s support options.
Since its launch on 31 January 2017, nearly 900 users have accessed the tool. It will be an invaluable resource to help social services deal with referrals more efficiently and ensure that safeguarding duties are correctly enacted. As councils prepare for the changes to support for families set out in the Immigration Act 2016, they will be able to rely on a fully updated resource to help deploy scarce funding appropriately when supporting destitute children and their families.
The web tool can be accessed here: http://migrantfamilies.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/.
Catherine Houlcroft, project officer, NRPF Network, Islington LBC