Universal Credit is the next big test for ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policies

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In the latest test of the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policies, Universal Credit Work Coaches will now be responsible for applying Home Office immigration policy.

Policy in Practice finds that seven million low income families may have to prove that they are eligible to claim Universal Credit before 2022 by passing the Habitual Residency Test. The 2014 ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policies precede Universal Credit rollout, meaning that current benefit claimants will have to prove their citizenship or immigration status. This will include more than 2.2 million families who were on benefits before the new immigration rules came into effect.

Immigration checks for benefit claimants have been in place for some time, however the ‘hostile environment’ measures seek to make it as inconvenient and unpleasant as possible for people without documents to live in Britain. This introduces a layer of bureaucracy into day to day areas of life, stemming from housing to healthcare. People on low incomes may struggle more than others to prove their citizenship.

While many will be able to prove their identity successfully, the 2011 census found that 9 million people don’t have a passport, many of whom will be moving to Universal Credit. This is compounded by problems with GOV.UK/Verify, where only around a third of Universal Credit applicants are able to verify their identity online, without needing to bring additional documentation.

Legitimate claims for Universal Credit will be denied or delayed because people are unable to produce relevant documentation, in a similar way to the Windrush generation. Work coaches might be spending their time helping people to prove British Citizenship, rather than helping them into work.

People who were eligible under the old rules may find they are no longer eligible for social security. The legislation states that EEA nationals who are job seekers will not be entitled to Universal Credit unless they have previously worked for a reasonable period and can show they are seeking more work.

This could include people who have worked, paid national insurance and perhaps returned to their country of birth for unavoidable reasons, to help with a funeral for example, who find that they no longer qualify for support if they lose their job.

In other examples of injustice, people from the European Union may have rights through their parents, but lose these rights once they are no longer a dependant child. A cohabitee may lose their right to reside if they no longer live with a partner who has residence rights.

In one case told by an advisor to Policy in Practice, a customer came into a Jobcentre reporting that they had not been paid because it appeared that they had no recourse to public funds. They were desperate. The Work Coach used their judgement and new flexible powers to give the customer an advance to allow time for the case to be properly investigated.

However, further investigation into the case concluded that the original decision was correct. A three month gap in the person’s work history meant they had lost their eligibility to support because of the new immigration rules, introduced in 2014. Advisors have to act according to guidance and legislation, but the added freedom that the work coach showed in this case allowed them to continue to engage with the customer and able to make a referral to social services.

Deven Ghelani, Director of Policy in Practice, said:

“These are complex areas of law. The Windrush cases show that even trained Home Office staff are making mistakes that can change peoples lives. Asking Work Coaches, whose core role is to help people find work and offer financial security, to carry out immigration tests on the most vulnerable people in our society means many more people will be hurt as a result of the flawed hostile environment policy.

 

Whilst the implications for people who are left destitute are stark, heightened social problems in the community and greater financial costs to taxpayers are also real risks. I believe there are things far more relevant to determine whether someone deserves a home, social security and healthcare than providing such strict documentation on citizenship or where you were born.”

Bill Irvine, Director of Universal Credit Advice said:

“Just like Windrush, many deserving claimants will be wrongly rebuffed, due to a lack of specialist advisory staff, and will struggle to overcome DWP’s impenetrable walls.”

Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust said:

“While the focus of the treatment of the windrush generation has been on deportations, the more typical effect of the hostile environment has been on their rights to employment, education, housing and health. Policy in Practice finds that this extends to social security, with a negative impact on the government’s flagship Universal Credit. Many of those seeking support to get a job and provide for their family are being unfairly dismissed rather than supported by the state.”

About Policy in Practice

Policy in Practice is an independent organisation founded by one of the architects of Universal Credit to make policy work for people on the frontline.

It works with frontline organisations, including local authorities, housing associations and voluntary sector providers responsible for delivering support to low income households across the UK local welfare provision. They provide policy expertise, analytics and software available through GOV.UK through their benefit calculation engine.

Please contact Policy in Practice to discuss media coverage.

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