No blanket ban on public funds for asylum seeker housing, new legal guidance states

Scottish Greens demand further action as new Cosla guidance clarifies how local authorities can support those made destitute by UK immigration law

  • Cosla states that Scottish local government has a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable people with insecure immigration status
  • However, a £63 million funding gap for providing this emergency assistance still exists
  • Patrick Harvie calls for faster progress on Scottish Government asylum accommodation pilot scheme

NEW guidance on migrants’ rights issued by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) demonstrates that there is “no blanket ban on using public funds to provide accommodation to asylum seekers who face destitution,” the Scottish Greens have argued.

The guidance, released by Cosla yesterday (27 February) is intended to support councils in their efforts to aid people whose immigration status means they cannot access public funds.

Under UK-wide rules, those with an insecure immigration status who live in the UK are unable to gain social security on homelessness assistance, even in times of crisis. However, Cosla have now stated that Scottish local government has a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable people in such situations, which can include providing financial support to meet essential living costs and offering help from social workers to avoid destitution.

However, Cosla have noted that local authorities face a £63 million funding gap for providing emergency assistance of this kind, not including the costs of staff time spent working with legal advisors and communicating with the Home Office to help resolve immigration claims.

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Commenting upon the publication of the new guidance, Cosla Community Wellbeing spokesperson Councillor Kelly Parry, Cosla’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson said: "The advice we are launching today provides a new tool to assist local authorities as they respond to this challenging, and distressing, area of service provision.

"Councils do a tough job supporting families on already stretched budgets. But local government can’t tackle destitution on its own, and it is unsustainable for councils to provide a vital safety net with no extra resources to assist them.

"Cosla has previously written to the Immigration Minister to ask her to change this approach and will be taking these issues for urgent discussion with the Leaders of Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities."

Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell, MSP also said: "We have worked jointly with COSLA to fund and commission this guidance, enabling local authorities to understand the complex legal frameworks that shape people’s eligibility to access public funds.

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"I very much appreciate the efforts local authorities make to provide support to people within the constraints of existing UK immigration rules and in recognition of people’s human rights. This new guidance will be a valuable tool for local authority officers supporting destitute people, including those with children and survivors of domestic abuse.

"No guidance, however comprehensive, can solve all of the challenges which face local authorities as a result of UK Government immigration policies. In 2019, we will work with partners to develop our anti-destitution strategy that better supports statutory agencies and our community partners - reducing the risks of destitution among people with no recourse to public funds living in Scotland."

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP welcomed the new guidance, and has called on the Scottish Government to step up action on emergency housing for asylum seekers, emphasising that the guidance clarifies the fact that there is no general prohibition on using public funds for such purposes, and that charities can be supported to provide assistance, in keeping with their legal objectives to relieve poverty and destitution.

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The Scottish Government has already committed to an asylum accommodation pilot in Glasgow, afrer accepting the recommendations of its own Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. However, nine months on, the Scottish Greens are demanding further details of its implementation.

Harvie said: “This new guidance is very welcome as it makes clear there is no blanket ban on using public funds to provide accommodation to asylum seekers who face destitution. On the contrary, there is a legal basis for supporting charities to do this work on humanitarian grounds.

“The Government committed to piloting a new approach nine months ago but there’s been painfully slow progress since. They now need to show they grasp the urgency of this situation by putting the necessary funding and a clear plan in place as soon as possible.”

Picture courtesy of Takver


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