Removal of Foreign Rough Sleepers faces Legal Challenge

Legal campaigners are saying that Home Office rules which allow the removal of foreign rough sleepers from the UK, which is due to begin shortly, are unlawful.

New grounds for refusing permission to stay in the UK where officials are ‘satisfied’ that a person has been ‘rough sleeping’ must be scrapped a legal challenge argues.

A coalition of local law centres that helps homeless people, convened by the Good Law Project, a not-for-profit group, have warned the home secretary, Priti Patel that the powers could be used unlawfully against people made unemployed during the Coronavirus pandemic, and also those escaping domestic violence, trafficking, gang violence or even terrorism abroad.

The Good Law Project says that it was ‘hypocritical’ of the home secretary to bring in such measures having this summer promised a new ‘compassionate’ stance from the home office following the Windrush scandal.

The organisations listed real-life examples where they fear vulnerable people could lose their right to remain in the UK.  They included a woman who was sleeping rough after fleeing the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, a mentally ill man embroiled in gang life who was on the street because he was trying to escape, a pub worker who had a room as part of their job but lost it when they were made redundant due to the pandemic.

The groups also said that the policy breaches the European convention on human rights because it discriminates against foreigners and gives too much discretion to officials applying it.  “Someone who simply misses their last train home and spends the night in the train station would fall foul of the new rule.  It could even result in the removal of people living as ‘property guardians’ in vacant commercial buildings because they are not designed for habitation.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and homelessness charities called for the home secretary to reverse the rule.

Legal director of the Good Law Project, Gemma Abbott said: “These measures will make people even less likely to seek help to get off the street.  As we enter the second wave of this deadly pandemic it is completely inhumane and in our view unlawful to cut vulnerable people off from support”.

A home office spokesperson said: “For the small minority of EEA (European Economics Area)migrant rough sleepers who continue to refuse government and local authority support and repeatedly engage in persistent anti social behaviour, the new immigration reforms mean they could lose their right to be in the UK”.  This would be a last resort measure, and initially individuals would be asked to leave voluntarily with government support.  In the event that they refuse, we may take the next step to remove them.

They said the rules would not apply to people who have successfully applied to continue living in the UK under the EU settlement scheme.