Citizens Advice reveals nearly 1.4m have no access to welfare safety net

  • Nearly 1.4 million people in the UK have no recourse to public funds (NRPF)

  • Burden of restrictions falls on Black or Asian people, or people from other minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME)

  • Number of people seeking advice on no recourse to public funds has doubled during pandemic

New research for Citizens Advice, conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, suggests that nearly 1.4 million people have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in the UK. This is an increase on previous estimates, based on 2016 data, which put the figure at 1.1 million.

NRPF rules mean tens of thousands of migrants - as well as their British family members - face difficult choices about returning to work; destitution; huge future costs relating to their immigration status; and the prospect of loved ones being forced to leave the UK.

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt especially hard by people subject to these rules. The charity has seen a 110% year-on-year increase in the number of people seeking help with NRPF during the pandemic. Since March 11, the day Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, Citizens Advice has helped someone every 20 minutes with NRPF.

The burden of NRPF restrictions falls disproportionately on people of colour - 82% of people helped with an NRPF issue by the charity in the last year were Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic background. Of which 32% were Asian, 31% were Black and 19% were from another ethnic minority background.

Returning to work - an impossible choice

Some people who have approached Citizens Advice for help with NRPF have faced the impossible choice of returning to work while ill, shielding, or living with someone who is shielding or losing their income.

Despite the changes to the rules for people who are shielding in England, unless NRPF restrictions are lifted people will continue to face this dilemma. Return to work when they are ill or their workplace is not Covid-secure and so risking their health or that of their household. Simply because they cannot access the welfare safety net.

Migrants from non-EEA countries are disproportionately likely to work in frontline roles, including in healthcare, care work and security jobs. Better support for people affected by these rules can support a safer easing of lockdown measures.

Families at risk of being split up

For some, the temporary hardship of coronavirus could have devastating long-term consequences. Those applying for leave to remain for spouses or family members are required to demonstrate a minimum income of £18,600 per annum. 

However, British citizens or settled persons who are made redundant or whose income as a self-employed person does not return to normal after 31 July may not be able to successfully renew their spouse or family member’s visa. This could mean families being separated because of a drop in income.

The charity is calling for:

  • The NRPF restriction for those subject to immigration control to be temporarily suspended

  • The Habitual Residence Test (HRT) to be temporarily suspended from the application process for benefits 

  • The minimum income requirement (of at least £18,600 per year) and the maintenance and accommodation requirements to be temporarily suspended for all those renewing family visas

  • All those on a 5-year route to settlement whose income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic not to be moved onto a 10-year route because they cannot show minimum income.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The revelation that almost 1.4 million people have no recourse to public funds is shocking. Without the security of the welfare safety net, many have faced and will continue to face impossible choices concerning their health and that of their families.

“The government must suspend NRPF rules for the duration of the pandemic. People of colour have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Migrants who are overwhelmingly from Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic backgrounds backgrounds should not have to take unnecessary risks as lockdown is reduced. Anyone experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic should not see any impact on their long-term immigration status.

“The government has provided some measures to support people with NRPF, such as making them eligible for the Job Retention Scheme and providing emergency funding to councils. Despite this, we are seeing significant increases in the numbers of people seeking our help.”

Case Study (name changed to protect identity)

40 year-old Kwesi from London works as a security guard and has a 13 year-old son who lives with his ex-wife. He also has type 1 diabetes.

 Kwesi has worked on multiple contracts in recent years, his ability to work has been made difficult by worsening symptoms of his diabetes. At times this has caused him to struggle to make enough to get by.

 When coronavirus reached the UK, his doctor advised him that he should shield and he was no longer able to work. He found that he couldn’t pay his rent and he didn’t have enough money for food. He also couldn’t provide any financial support for his son.

“When coronavirus came I was told not to work because I’m at risk. I couldn’t pay my rent, I couldn’t even provide for myself or my son.

 “I was sleeping in a friend's shed and then I stayed on the couch of a family friend but I became a burden to them and they asked me to leave. That’s when I started applying for public funds. At the same time, my leave to remain was actually expiring, which I didn't have the funds to renew. I haven’t received any reply [from the Home Office]. They have my ID and passport with them, which is up to date.

 “Luckily I got a job and was able to earn some money to rent a room in a house share. Even though I’m putting my health at risk I have no other option. I would like in the future to be able to have my own place so my son can come and stay with me.

“With all the stress and agony I’ve gone through, it’s just a shame the Government hasn't been able to do anything for me. They need to see that there are genuine people that need help.”

Notes to editors

  1. Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have 'no recourse to public funds' if they are 'subject to immigration control'. This means that they are not entitled to most welfare benefits, including Universal Credit, child benefit, housing benefit, and a range of allowances and tax credits. It applies to most non-EEA migrants without Indefinite Leave to Remain.

  2. Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides impartial, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues.

  3. 1.1 million estimate of people with NRPF (Children’s Society report - A Lifeline for All

  4. Children and Families with No Recourse to Public Funds) -– estimate was based on 2016

  5. data from the Migration Observatory (, as 2019 data was not yet available at time of publication)

  6. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  7. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online and over the phone, for free. 

  8. We helped 2.8 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2019-20. And we had 34.5 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  9. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.