Liberty FOIs reveal new Home Office attempts to turn homeless charities into immigration enforcers

07 July 2019

The Home Office is attempting to use homeless charities to target migrant rough sleepers for immigration enforcement, Liberty can reveal. 

A chain of emails obtained by Liberty under the Freedom of Information Act shows Home Office officials, the Greater London Authority, and homeless charities discussing a new scheme called the Rough Sleeper Support Service, which is run as part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's Rough Sleeping Strategy. Some of the UK's leading homeless charities have been involved in the development of the trial scheme and asked to participate.

Under the service, front line workers would ask homeless people for their personal information, and share that information with the Home Office without their consent.

The documents claim that the purpose of sharing the information with the Home Office is to help prioritise a person's case within the Home Office, and ensure that homelessness outreach workers and local authorities can ensure the right support is provided.

However, a person will not necessarily have access to independent immigration advice following a referral, even though referrals will also result in immigration enforcement action.

The emails - dated from December 2018 to May 2019 - also show that the Government is keen to ensure that a referral can be made to the service without a rough sleeper’s consent.

A draft data-sharing deal claims that homeless outreach workers are performing the “public task” of “delivering immigration controls”, which, according to the Home Office, allows them to pass on rough sleepers’ sensitive personal information without their consent, which would otherwise be required under the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

The new service comes only 18 months after a previous Government policy on the deportation of homeless EU citizens was deemed unlawful and discriminatory by the High Court, following a legal challenge brought by the Public Interest Law Unit.

Gracie Bradley, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty said:

"This renewed attempt to make homeless outreach workers complicit in the hostile environment is beyond contempt.

"By passing personal information to the Home Office, homeless charities will fatally undermine the trust between outreach workers and rough sleepers that is vital in ensuring their rights.

We urge all charities who have been approached to refuse to take part, and are heartened by those who have done so already."

"The hostile environment is poisoning our public services and has left people scared to send their children to school, go to hospital or report crimes to police. The Government must urgently firewall public services from immigration enforcement, so that everyone can access support without fear of deportation.”

It is believed at least one charity has agreed to participate in the trial, which has not moved out of the test phase because the Home Office has not been able to conclude a data-sharing deal with charities and local authorities.