Author: Diane Taylor
A five-year-old boy has won a case against the Home Office as high court judges declared the government’s “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) policy unlawful for the second time in a year because it drives some families into destitution and breaches the duty to safeguard child welfare. Thousands of children living in poverty are likely to benefit from the ruling.
The British boy and his Zimbabwean-born mother, who cannot be identified, argued that the NRPF policy denied families like theirs access to the welfare safety net. As a result of Thursday’s ruling, children with low-earning migrant parents should be allowed access to essential state support such as housing benefit and universal credit that has previously been denied to them.
Lawyers representing the boy argued that the Home Office policy was unlawful because many children with migrant parents cannot access the welfare safety net, which provides protection from homelessness, hunger and destitution.
The boy, who cannot be identified, was born in the UK and was supported in the legal challenge by his mother, who came to the UK in 2004 and has leave to remain.
The boy’s mother is a former key worker who lost her job during the pandemic as she had no one to look after her son. She fears that without state support both of them would be left destitute.
She was homeless at times during her pregnancy, but she and her son are now living in suitable accommodation close to his school.
Lady Justice Laing and Mr Justice Lane did not accept the boy’s arguments that the policy was racist, but they found that it was unlawful because it disregarded the government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The immigration rules, which set out the NRPF policy, are expected to be amended as a result of the judgment.
The boy’s mother welcomed the ruling. She said: “I have been living with the fear of being punished for needing to have recourse to public funds, and I am glad it is now all over. I hope that other children will not have to grow up in poverty, as my child had to at times, simply because his mum is not British.”
The case is the second successful challenge against the Home Office’s NRPF policy since lockdown. Last year a court found that the policy was unlawful owing to its failure to prevent people falling into destitution, in breach of their right not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment under human rights laws.
The case was supported by detailed evidence from The Unity Project, a small charity that focuses exclusively on supporting individuals and families subject to NRPF.
The boy and his mother’s solicitor, Adam Hundt, of Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: “We hope the government will now listen to the courts and scrap this damaging and unnecessary policy completely, rather than continuing to tinker with the immigration rules in an attempt to make it marginally less punitive.
“This is a good result which will benefit many low-income families. However, we are disappointed that the court did not find that NRPF is unlawfully discriminatory, despite being provided with a wealth of evidence that the policy is racist because it disproportionately affects black British children.”
In papers filed with the court, the home secretary accepted that 80% of migrants subjected to NRPF are Asian or African.
A Home Office spokesperson said NRPF had been “upheld by successive governments, and maintains that those seeking to establish their family life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration.
“The court dismissed five of the six grounds raised by the claimant challenging the lawfulness of the policy. We are currently reflecting on the judgement in relation to our child welfare responsibilities. People with leave under family and human rights routes can already apply, free of charge, to have no recourse to public funds conditions lifted.”