According to a recent report in the Guardian EU nationals rough sleeping in the UK after 1 January could face deportation under immigration rules to be laid before Parliament.
However, homeless EU nationals are already being ‘reconnected’ to their country of origin by local authorities in a practice which currently is going under the radar.
‘Reconnection’ is a process whereby EEA nationals who approach their local authority for support around issues with homelessness or destitution are offered support to return to their country of origin as the only path available to them.
We have been trying to find out how many EEA nationals are being reconnected. Based on information from the 30 English councils who provided data, 1,352 EU nationals have been reconnected since 2016.
In some areas reconnection was happening in a proactive manner, with councils undertaking outreach work (sometimes via third sector homeless charities) to find those who are rough sleeping and offer them support to return to country of origin.
However, the use of third sector partners as ‘border force’ agents (particularly homeless support charities) has been questioned in the past.
The average amount being spent on reconnections is approximately £365.17, but the figures range from £80.00 to £1,937.43 per person.
Aside from European destinations, 32 EU migrants were recorded as having been ‘reconnected’ to another part of the UK, with one local authority spending £1,643.00 in a two-year period on one-way bus tickets throughout the UK for 26 people.
Quoted sources of funding for reconnections were homelessness prevention funding, controlling migration funding, local government’s own internal budget, local authority commissioning third sector partners, cold weather funding, rough sleeper outreach strategy funding and rough sleepers budget funding.
The process of reconnection also appears to be a postcode lottery across the country, with some local authorities such as Manchester and Leicester utilising the practice consistently and others not at all (almost 900 people have been reconnected in these two areas in the last four years).
Norfolk reports spending £200,000 to provide support for destitute EEA nationals since 2017, including reconnecting 130 individuals. However, it is difficult to know if Manchester, Leicester, and Norfolk are unique in their practices, as the data is not available elsewhere.
So, what do we know about those who have been reconnected? Most councils refused to offer any details on those who were reconnected under a section 40 (2) exemption.
From those that did disclose, we can see that most of those returned were single males, with only three females recorded. Most were aged between 18 and 65, with only two individuals listed as aged 60-65 and another aged 70. Most reconnections were within Europe, in particular to Romania, Poland and Latvia.
Some councils are very clear that reconnection is a voluntary process – people are not being deported. However, some EU nationals we have spoken to say they feel they have no choice but to accept reconnection.
One support agency in the east of England has said that it is not only those who are rough sleeping who are reconnected, as they have worked with EU nationals with mental health issues who have be reconnected by the Local Authority.
They have also worked with victims of domestic abuse with ‘no recourse to public funds’ who have been told that their only option for support is a flight ‘home’ as they will not be accepted in refuge due to being unable to access to housing benefit to pay for the bed space.
Our research shows that those with children and families have also been returned.
This potential deportation also comes at a time where the deadline in which EU nationals can apply for settled status (EUSS) is on the horizon. In the first instance, while data is so patchy it is not clear if those who are being offered a ‘reconnection’ service could/should be entitled to settled status.
Further, it is broadly accepted that there will be people who will miss the deadline for various reasons – no such scheme has ever reached 100% application. The Government has promised that for those who miss the deadline for EUSS there will be no automatic deportation, as suggested previously by Brandon Lewis.
However, there is a real risk that those who do find themselves without status will face a particularly hostile environment in terms of access to housing, support and health services and could potentially end up destitute or homeless.
How many of this group will then face ‘self-deportation’ via a reconnection policy or enforced deportation via the new immigration rules?