Creating long term change for those subject to ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) and the Refugee and Migration Policy Project (RAMP) have been working closely with the local council and individuals with lived experience of being subject to NRPF.  The aim has been to create long term systemic change for those subject to NRPF conditions in Bristol, so as to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people don’t fall through the cracks.

From this work we have developed a Bristol Model which outlines our vision for what support is needed for those subject to NRPF in our city. The model is based on lived experiences, conversations with professionals and our expertise. It sets out what we believe all individuals subject to NRPF in our city should be entitled to. Overall the Bristol Model aims to provide people with the safety net they need to survive and thrive despite their NRPF status and to ensure that no-one in Bristol experiences destitution or homelessness.  The Bristol Model is based around 4 key principles:

  • Design-out Destitution. People must have access to basic goods needed to survive and thrive. This includes food, medicine, sanitary and washing facilities, the means to connect with people digitally and access to public transport.
  • A Safe Place to Stay.  People must have access to accommodation which is safe and secure and which provides them with privacy and dignity.
  • Informed and Supported. People must have access to appropriate and specialist legal advice. People must also have access to holistic social and welfare support where needed, and support into employment where they are legally allowed to work.
  • Included and Involved. People must have the opportunity to tell their story where they choose to, and to be actively involved in the design of relevant support services and advocacy activity.

A number of voluntary and statutory organisations in Bristol including officers from Bristol Council and Bristol’s mayor have signed up to this model, pledging their support for this vision of a Bristol that includes all. It is also in line with Bristol’s pledge as a City of Sanctuary to end destitution.

There is already a lot of good practise in the city which is working towards these principles: the aim of this model is to bring together good practice and close the gaps.  However there is much more to be done if we want to make this model a reality for all Bristolians who are subject to NRPF. We continue to work with the Council and other organisations to create long term change to improve the lives of our members subject to NRPF.

To transform the lives of our members including those subject to NRPF, donate on our website.

Yad’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

When Yad first arrived in the UK, he applied for asylum and was housed by the asylum support system in Liverpool. He got to know some members of the Kurdish community there, but they moved on to Bristol. Yad’s initial asylum claim was refused: he was able to appeal but couldn’t find legal representation to support him in court, so attended the court session alone. He was refused again and his asylum support accommodation and subsidence were stopped.

With no support and nowhere to go, Yad remembered the community he had met who moved to Bristol and followed them here. He was homeless and sleeping in a small tent in Eastville Park. Yad’s mental and physical health were poor – he felt frustrated and upset, and struggled to access the medical care that he needed.

“I tried to contact the Home Office independently while sleeping in the park but was unable to do so without help.”

After some time he was able to find members of the community that he had met in Liverpool and they helped him a bit, sometimes letting him stay on their sofas or giving him money for food. Sometimes a local Kurdish restaurant would let Yad eat for free. The community was truly kind. But even with this limited support times were difficult – Yad was constantly moving around, never sure where he could sleep or what support would be there. He was always in other people’s spaces – relying on their kindness and hospitality.

“I was desperate for a place to live.”

“Thankfully I have managed to get past that difficult time.”

In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the British Government enacted a policy called ‘Everyone In’: which funded local authorities to temporarily house anyone who was homeless. This policy recognised that being homeless was a public health risk, as it was not possible for homeless people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the Covid-19 outbreak. The policy applied to everyone: no matter what their immigration status was. So Yad was housed by Bristol City Council in a hotel.

“It was incomparable to where I was before.”

While in the hotel Yad received £10 per week destitution support from Borderlands, a local charity. The hotel provided food for residents, although Yad struggled to eat it as it wasn’t food he was used to in his culture. He saw a 100% improvement in his health while he was in the hotel. When he was told in the winter of 2021 that the ‘Everyone In’ accommodation was going to end, Yad felt stressed and worried. While being supported in the hotel however, he had been put in touch with Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) a local charity who provide hosted accommodation for individuals in Yad’s situation, while they work to regularise their status. As ‘Everyone In’ comes to an end, Yad has been given temporary accommodation in a BHN house and receives a £20 per week allowance from them. This means Yad will not have to face homelessness in Bristol again.

“When I heard that the Everyone In accommodation wouldn’t be extended it was stressful. I was worried. But at least for now I get £20 weekly income from BHN and I have temporary accommodation from BHN too which is great.”

Just before being housed in the hotel, Yad had been referred to Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) by community members. BRR had helped to find a solicitor to work with him to submit a fresh asylum claim. It took Yad and his solicitor over a year to work together to gather the evidence needed to submit a fresh claim. They spent a long time waiting for the Home Office to release Yad’s previous records to the solicitor, and Covid delays also made it more difficult to gather the evidence they needed. In the winter of 2021, Yad and his solicitor finally submitted a fresh claim. This means Yad is now eligible again for accommodation and subsidence payments from asylum support. He is currently working with BRR to gather the evidence needed to apply for the support. Until it is granted, Yad knows he can stay with BHN.

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.

Vasile’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Vasile arrived in the UK from Romania in 2014. His hope was to work and send money back to Romania to help his family. Initially Vasile was in London. He worked various cash in hand jobs – at car washes, on building sites, cleaning – but he was often ripped off. As he didn’t sign contracts he was often paid too little or repeatedly told he would be paid next week. Vasile never had anywhere to live and was sleeping rough.

After a couple of years Vasile left London for Bristol because he had heard that people there were more helpful. But after he arrived in Bristol he continued to live on the streets.  Bristol City Council knew about Vasile and his situation as they delivered food to him twice a day: but still he was homeless. After a year or two, Vasile’s wife also came to join him in the UK. He and his wife slept rough together on the streets and in the parks of Bristol.

It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that Vasile was finally housed. He was put up in a hotel in Bristol as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which aimed to house all homeless people in response to the public health emergency. This was because while living on the streets it is impossible for people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the virus. Stable accommodation made a huge difference for Vasile. He was able to wash himself and his clothes regularly, and he had facilities to make himself small meals.

However, this was also a difficult time. Vasile’s wife had fallen ill with lung cancer and was receiving treatment in hospital. Her prognosis was not good and towards the end of 2020 their GP was able to help them access some funds so she could return to Romania to continue her treatment and see family, including their nine children. In early 2021, Vasile’s wife passed away in Romania. This was an extremely difficult time for Vasile, and his mental health suffered. But he felt lucky to have friends in Bristol who supported him, as well as access to his GP for medical help.

As lockdown was eased again in the UK, the national government ended funding for the ‘Everyone In’ programme on May 17th 2021, saying that the public health emergency had passed. For Vasile this meant he was homeless yet again – sleeping rough in an underpass with another friend. Being back on the streets only compounded his mental health struggles. Some of Vasile’s other friends had managed to access support through the help of Bristol City Council and St Mungos while they were staying in hotels. They were now receiving benefits and in, or waiting for, housing allocations.

Vasile had also been supported to make an application to the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Having been in the UK for more than 5 years, he should have been eligible for settled status, which would allow him access to benefits and housing support. But Vasile had very little documentary evidence of his time in the UK. Despite multiple applications he had never received a National Insurance number, there were no records of the exploitative work he had undertaken, and as a rough sleeper he had no records of housing – it was going to be difficult to prove his entitlements.

At the time of meeting Caroline, Bristol Refugee Rights’ Member Participation Organiser, in May 2021, Vasile was still waiting to hear from the Home Office about his EUSS application. It is anticipated that he will be given pre-settled status (given to those who have been in the UK for less than five years as of December 31st, 2020). While this will be a big step in his journey towards getting off the streets, the Home Office is currently fighting attempts to ensure that people with pre-settled status are able to access the social security net in the courts. It is still unclear if with pre-settled status Vasile will be able to access the help he needs to change his situation. He says “the council has known about my struggles  for a long time, but still things don’t change.”

Vasile now sells the Big Issue in Bristol to get a small income. Despite the challenges he has faced in the UK, he still hopes to stay here. He says that only in the UK will he be able to earn money to help his family back in Romania. In Romania, he says, it’s hopeless. Although Vasile blames the local council for his situation, NRPF conditions and entitlements and in many cases what local authorities can do about it are set by the national government.

Vasile feels left behind. He says he knows other people who have been in the UK a shorter time than him and who have never worked but are receiving support in terms of benefits and housing. Vasile’s message following his years of living in the UK without access to public funds is twofold. He says that accommodation is crucial and can completely change someone’s life. Moreover it is difficult to see others access support while not being able to access any yourself.

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.

Mounish’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Names have been changed on the request of the member.

Mounish has lived in Bristol for twelve years but it has been a very difficult twelve years. He visited the UK several times before he decided to move here permanently and always liked Bristol, as it has a very welcoming community. So, when he was forced to flee Bangladesh, that’s where he decided to come.

In Bangladesh Mounish was involved in politics as a member of an opposition party. He felt he was no longer safe there due to his political activities. He received threats to his life and made the difficult decision to leave his home country and family behind. Mounish arrived in the UK on a visitor’s visa and when his visa ended he remained in the UK without any contact with the Home Office. The rumours in the community were that if you made an application to the Home Office you would be deported back to Bangladesh: and so in fear Mounish lived under the radar. He had no idea where to go to get legal advice, or that there was any organisation in Bristol that could provide support and advice to people in situations like his. Mounish lived with other members of the Bangladeshi community who would give him space in their homes. He survived by taking on work at local restaurants who would ‘pay’ him by giving him food or sometimes small amounts of cash.

This life continued until 2018, when the restaurant that Mounish was working in was raided by immigration officials – without papers, he was taken away and detained. At this time Mounish’s health was very poor as he was struggling to manage diabetes, so his detention was spent in a medical facility. It was only at this point of crisis that he first sought the advice of a solicitor and heard about organisations in Bristol that could offer advice and support to people like him. Hearing about Mounish’s experiences, the solicitor advised that he submit an asylum claim. With his asylum claim submitted, Mounish returned to life in Bristol. With his new community knowledge he started to receive a £10 a week destitution payment from the Red Cross which he could use to buy essentials and pay to travel to appointments in Bristol. He also started volunteering at local organisations. Mounish loves to give back and was always involved in a lot of voluntary work in Bangladesh.

Mounish’s physical and mental health remains poor. He has been in the UK for twelve years now and has only been able to see his family in Bangladesh, where he has a wife and two children, via video call. Mounish worries about his family; who continue to be harassed by the police. He believes this is because of his previous political activity. He has been diagnosed with depression and is accessing counselling through the NHS. Despite this, he struggles with suicidal thoughts and often feels hopeless.

“Living is not good for me – sometimes I think I want to die.”

“I never dreamed of a life like this.”

In 2021, Mounish’s asylum application was refused by the Home Office and this decision was upheld on appeal. Mounish says the Home Office don’t think he is a genuine asylum seeker as they say he has just come to the UK to work and send money back to his family. Those years in Bristol in which Mounish did not have the right information and was too afraid to seek legal advice and make an application to the Home Office have had a big impact on his ability to make a successful asylum claim. Mounish says his solicitor is still confident that he has a strong case and that the Home Office should change their decision. He has a list of additional evidence to support his case which his solicitor recommended he gather in order to submit a fresh claim. Much of this involves his family trying to get access to evidence back in Bangladesh – something that is even more difficult than usual at the moment due to Covid restrictions. Without a successful application for leave to remain in the UK, Mounish’s life in Bristol continues: without a right to work, supported only by charities and his community to survive.

“I have nowhere to go, but I’m also not here either.”

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.

Victoria’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Names have been changed on the request of the member.

Victoria arrived in the UK in 2004 from a country in Africa. She had a work visa which was valid for two years and worked as a domestic cleaner in Southport. After two years she had to apply to extend her visa and was successful in receiving a one year extension from the Home Office. Victoria’s visa was subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition (NRPF). This meant she had to be completely self-sufficient in the UK, as she was not eligible to access the social security net. In 2006, Victoria moved to Bristol as she had some family friends living in the city. Every year she applied to have her visa extended by the Home Office and continued to work and support herself.

Everything changed in 2010 when her visa extension request was refused by the Home Office. They said she did not have enough money in her bank account. Victoria could not afford a lawyer to help her challenge or understand this decision. She had suddenly become an undocumented migrant in the UK. No longer able to work, Victoria was completely reliant on the community and her family friends for support. Victoria slept in different people’s living rooms – constantly reliant on others to survive.

“This time was very, very difficult – sometimes I don’t want to remember this time. When I think about it I get anxious.”

Victoria’s health was impacted by her situation: at one point her blood pressure reached over 200 mmHg. She felt very worried about her health. She was supported by her GP but struggled to be honest with the GP about her situation – she was scared that if anyone found out that she was undocumented she might be reported to the Home Office, detained and deported.

In 2015 Victoria had a son. Now things were even harder. When she was asking the community for help and places to stay she was asking for two, not just one. She was completely reliant on hand me downs of old baby clothes. Victoria felt like a bad mum – unable to give her son anything. Victoria and her son spent years living this way until a friend told her about the Asylum Team at Bristol City Council. Before she called them, Victoria fully researched the support they might be able to offer. Victoria was at breaking point: she called the asylum team and requested a face to face appointment. For the first time she told a professional her full situation.

As Victoria had a young child, under Section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act the Asylum Team were able to offer Victoria and her son accommodation. They also helped Victoria with money both for groceries and to enable her son to attend school. Victoria and her son now live in a small one bedroom flat paid for under Section 17. They have their own kitchen and bathroom. While this is much easier than when they were sofa surfing, it is still challenging: Victoria and her son have to share a bed, and as her son grows Victoria feels more and more uncomfortable about this. Victoria has asked whether or not it would be possible to get a two bedroom place so that she and her son can have some privacy but has been told that she is lucky to have the place she has – other families on Section 17 support do not have their own kitchens and bathrooms.

Victoria finds it hard to think about the future. She wants the best for her son, but continues to feel that she has not provided for him. The ongoing uncertainty of her position also makes it hard to think about the future.

“Even things you think you could do this for my son like join a football team, you are scared that they will ask about your immigration status.”

“I don’t know the way forward. I can’t plan.”

The Asylum Team have helped Victoria to access an immigration solicitor who is working with her to see what immigration options are open for Victoria and her son to regularise their status in the UK. Victoria worries about her son and what will happen for him if they are not successful in getting documents to remain in the UK. She also struggles to explain their situation to him. He has started asking her about travelling: he wants to get a passport and travel abroad like he sees his friends at school do. Victoria does not know how to tell him that they can’t do this because they are undocumented in the UK. Instead she puts off this difficult conversation, telling him this is something they will do when he is older and in secondary school.

“Children are innocent in this. They don’t belong in any other place. The only place they know is here. My son, he does not even speak my language.”

Victoria says people like her are “just piling up”: the Home Office doesn’t give them leave to remain or turns down their applications to stay, but it also doesn’t deport them. Meanwhile, she sees news about skills shortages and the need to recruit for certain roles from abroad and feels frustrated.

“There are people here with skills. People who want to work but don’t have the right. People who could fill those positions in care jobs, in nursing if they were given the training and the opportunity to do so”.

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.