Hostile Environment

Government has embedded immigration control into every aspect of life, creating a hostile environment for undocumented people, pushing them into destitution and towards exploitation. These racist policies must be scrapped.


Since 2010 the Government has launched a wave of attacks on the human rights of undocumented people – meaning people who can’t prove they have a right to live in the UK – through a set of policies known as the ‘hostile environment’.

The idea is to make life in the UK as unbearable as possible for undocumented migrants so that they leave – and others think twice about coming – by blocking access to public services and pushing them into extreme poverty.

Under the hostile environment, employers, landlords, NHS staff and other public servants have to check your immigration status before offering you a job, housing, healthcare or other support.

And we’ve uncovered a series of secret data-sharing deals between Government departments allowing Immigration Enforcement access to confidential information provided by patients at doctors’ surgeries, schoolchildren and others so people can be tracked down for deportation.

We have also recently learned of Government plans to build a massive migrant database – the next generation of the hostile environment.

Following the Windrush Scandal, the Government made several promises in the press about ending the hostile environment and tried to rebrand it – but it hasn’t gone away.

If you seem visibly foreign, these policies create a mandate for racial discrimination against you.


If you’re an undocumented migrant, these policies stop you from accessing essential services.

You won’t be able to find legal housing, get a drivers’ license or open a bank account.

If you get medical care or your children go to school, your details might be passed to Immigration Enforcement.

You can’t access a refuge if you escape an abusive relationship.

You can’t legally work or claim any benefits, forcing you into extreme poverty and putting you at risk of exploitation.

And it’s so easy for you to suddenly find yourself undocumented and facing the full force of these racist policies.

Maybe you simply lost some paperwork, or you can’t scrape together enough money for the rocketing visa fees or can’t keep up with the ever-changing immigration rules.

Or maybe the Home Office has just made a mistake – which happens far too often.

But the devastating effects of the hostile environment are not limited to undocumented people.

If you seem visibly foreign, these policies create a mandate for racial discrimination against you.

For instance, the Government’s Right to Rent scheme threatened landlords with criminal sanctions if they didn’t make sure tenants had a right to live in the country.

In order to avoid punishment, landlords wouldn’t let properties to anyone who didn’t have a British passport or looked like they might be foreign.

In 2019, the High Court said the scheme was unlawful because it encouraged discrimination.

And if you’re a public sector worker, like a teacher or a nurse, the hostile environment has turned you into a border guard against your will – and maybe without your knowledge – reporting on the people you are there to help.


Everyone should be able to access essential services without fear.

We’re calling for the racist hostile environment to be scrapped and for Government departments and public services to commit to a data ‘firewall’ – a cast-iron promise that personal information collected by trusted services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement.

And we’ve teamed with a host of other organisations to fight against the data-sharing deals we’ve managed to uncover so far.

Together we are dismantling the hostile environment.

I'm looking for advice on this

Did you know Liberty offers free human rights legal advice?

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not