Home Immigration News Destitute children unlawfully denied support by local councils

Destitute children unlawfully denied support by local councils

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Author: Aamna Mohdin

Local councils are unlawfully denying destitute children support because their parents’ immigration status is under suspicion, the Guardian can reveal.

Families whose immigration status becomes insecure can quickly become destitute because they lose their right to work and access benefits. Such families who have dependent children can seek support under section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act, which states that local councils have a duty to provide cash or accommodation to ensure a child’s immediate needs are met.

Hundreds of these families have been unlawfully denied this support since 2010 because local authorities have focused on the parents’ immigration background.

Many of the children affected are either British or entitled to British citizenship, and campaigners say it has now become normal practice for them to threaten local authorities with legal action in an effort to ensure a fair assessment.

Rupinder Parhar, a policy officer at the Children’s Society said: “For families struggling with the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition, local authorities can support but often refuse an initial assessment in spite of this contradicting the law. We usually have to resort to legal action where a local authority does not provide an assessment of a family’s needs.”

Eve Dickson, a policy officer at Project 17, which supports families trying to access section 17, said: “We find many local authorities are excessively concerned with trying to ‘catch parents out’. Any inconsistency in the information provided will be used to discredit them and refuse support. Children in these families are being failed because of this pervasive and discriminatory culture of suspicion.”

Ellen Tansey, the senior housing link worker at Solace Women’s Aid, said victims of domestic violence are among those who have been unlawfully denied support. “These children are being let down because of their mother’s immigration status. There’s a concern that had the parent been British at least an assessment would have been explored, whereas when they’re not, the door is often shut,” she said.

Rebecca, a mother in her early 30s who preferred not to give her last name, said she had been made to feel like a criminal last summer, when she sought section 17 support from Croydon council for her six-year-old British daughter. She said she was denied support for several months despite being homeless, and that the council only stepped in when a lawyer threatened legal action. “After all the pain, they finally agreed to help, but it was a struggle. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. It was too much. My child was left hating life,” she said.

In another case, a mother of three was forced to sleep in a bus shelter with her three children after Sandwell council refused her application for section 17 support. Mary, 35, who preferred not to give her real name, said she was consistently refused support for five months and told her family had no right to reside in the UK. “They started accusing me in front of my kids that I am lying about who I am and my situation. They said I should go back to my country with my kids. They said my children are illegal immigrants and don’t belong here,” she said.

Mary’s lawyer obtained a court order obliging the local authority to house her family, which it ignored until threatened with criminal prosecution. With the help of ASIRT, an organisation that supports asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in the West Midlands, Mary was eventually granted section 17 support, but she said the experience had left her traumatised.

Dave Stamp, a senior caseworker at ASIRT, said children, and frequently British children, have become casualties of the “hostile environment” put in place during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary. “Essentially, we have come to anticipate that children will be left destitute without the prospect of legal action,” he said.

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