The Home Office lacks capacity to efficiently process immigration applications, it has been claimed, as LGC research highlights the financial burden on councils supporting people with no recourse to public funds.
Councils in London and the English core cities spent at least £121m assisting families unable to access benefits and housing assistance due to their immigration status between 2013 and 2016.
Of this, £105.8 came from the 29 London councils that responded to LGC’s request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
However it is claimed there were further costs across the wider system, including social care and education; London Councils estimates local authorities in the capital alone spend an average of £50m annually.
Children in need
Currently councils provide assistance to families when, due to their immigration status, they have no access to benefits and there is child in need due to inadequate accommodation or a lack of money for basic living needs under the Children Act 1989.
When parents have no immigration status due to overstaying a visa for example, assistance can be provided under section 17 of the act to prevent a breach of the family’s human rights.
LGC asked all 32 London boroughs and eight English core cities for their expenditure under the Act on supporting children with no recourse to public funds (see table).
Southwark LBC had the highest reported outlay with a total of £19.5m over three years, followed by Lambeth LBC which spent £14.3m supporting 652 families during the same period.
Outside of London Manchester City Council spent at least £6.4m between 2013 and 2016 on supporting families with no recourse to public funds, with Bristol City Council spending £3.6m during the same period.
|CITY||TOTAL NRPF SPEND (£) 2013-2016|
Greenwich LBC spent £13.3m supporting 741 families between 2013 and 2016.
David Gardner (Lab), Greenwich cabinet member for health and adult social care, said councils had being “doing the work of government” to ensure destitute families were supported.
He added: “Most cases are waiting for claims to be processed and it comes down to the ability of the Home Office to process applications in a more timely way.
“The government should be stepping up in terms of managing this much better.”
Cllr Gardner said there was a significant financial burden attached to processing applications for support as well as responding to appeals, but no recognition of this in the form of support from central government.
He added the most significant cost related to housing as councils are not able to allocate properties they own to families with no recourse to public funds, so rely on the more expensive private sector.
A finance director at another London borough also suggested the Home Office did not have the capacity to cope with current levels of applications. He said the cost to the council of supporting families with no recourse to public funds was putting a strain on “every service we provide”.
“The Home Office has got a workload it can’t deal with.
“It has not got the right resources and while they deal with cases local authorities are left picking up the pieces,” the director added.
He said enforced removals by the Home Office were “very rare”, often leaving councils to support those who remain.
“Even when you have gone through the whole process and the application has been removed, they are often not then removed from the country,” he added.
“There is a trend in the Home Office to give limited leave to remain with no recourse to public funds and the government is happy to for local authorities to have to support them.”
The director said there are some primary school classes in London with large numbers of children from families with no recourse to public funds. Despite meeting much of the criteria for the pupil premium, which is paid to schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children, the children do not qualify for the funding, putting pressure on education budgets.
The government said it has attempted to streamline councils’ assessment processes through measures in the Immigration Act 2015, which is expected to come into force in April next year, including the removal of the requirement for a human rights assessment.
Catherine Houlcroft, project officer at the No Recourse to Public Funds Network based at Islington LBC, said the full implications of the Immigration Act on councils would not be fully understood until the government published new guidance and regulations. An assessment under the new burdens regime of the financial impact on local government of the legislation is still awaited.
“There is some discord between the Home Office and local government’s understanding of that,” she added.
The Home Office declined to comment.