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People with No Recourse to Public Funds face a precipice with no safety net as cost-of-living crisis bites

Dame Clare Moriarty

Dame Clare Moriarty

3 min read

Almost a quarter of a million key workers in the UK, including frontline NHS staff, live their lives knowing that if they fall on hard times there will be no safety net for them. Why are they in this unthinkable position? A little-known, but profoundly harmful policy called No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

In total almost 1.4 million people, including 175,000 children and over 300,000 parents, have a NRPF condition attached to their visa. Those affected are overwhelmingly people of colour.

Having NRPF on their visa means that they are barred from most benefits, including Universal Credit, child benefit, and support with childcare and housing. People in low-paid or insecure work often need these benefits to make ends meet. And in times of crisis they’re often unable to access vital services, such as publicly-funded women’s refuges.

Ada (pseudonym) is one of those key workers affected. She moved to the UK from West Africa and works as a community nurse on a working visa. But when she needed help there was none.

She struggled to leave an abusive marriage, fearing that there would be no support for her and her children. When Ada did leave her husband, they faced homelessness. Now, struggling with low wages, she has to work extra shifts at the weekend away from her family to keep a roof over their heads.

81 per cent of those with No Recourse to Public Funds have fallen behind on an essential bill

The government’s argument for this restriction is that establishing a life in the UK should mean contributing to it. That is precisely what people with NRPF are doing. Before the pandemic hit, three in five people with NRPF were in work and 41 per cent have lived here for over five years.

Despite this, they are largely unable to access a welfare safety net they’ve paid into. For some this means in times of crisis they face impossible choices with no prospect of help.

New research from Citizens Advice, the first-ever representative survey of people with NRPF attached to their visa, shows the dramatic scale of the hardship. 

The survey found 81 per cent of those with No Recourse to Public Funds have fallen behind on an essential bill, including more than 50 per cent who are behind on their rent. Almost half live in overcrowded accommodation. And many have faced heart-breaking challenges to feed themselves and their families, or afford clothing to keep out the cold. One in five have faced homelessness or housing insecurity. 

These problems have a deep and lasting impact on the life chances of children. Many of these children are British citizens who can’t access the support they’re entitled to because of their parents’ immigration status. This leads to stories like Tema’s (pseudonym), whose son’s part-time work while at college all goes into paying the family’s rent, or Fara (pseudonym) who can’t afford her bus fare to keep up her studies as her family survives only with the help of foodbanks.

As part of Citizens Advice’s most recent research, we talked to people with NRPF about their experiences. One man, a community worker, put it best, saying: “We’re asking for a safety net. A reassurance that we're going to get the chance to enjoy a decent life. [That] we're going to get a chance to prove that we are active members of society, productive members of society. Let us.”

We agree. With a cost of living crisis growing, people with NRPF face a precipice with no safety net. It is time for the government to end this unjust restriction for people building a life in the UK.

Dame Clare Moriarty is the chief executive of Citizens Advice.

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