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'How do I survive now?’ Landmark Citizens Advice study reveals shocking hardship of people with No Recourse to Public Funds

30 November 2021
  • 81% of people with No Recourse to Public Funds attached to their visa are behind on at least one essential bill

  • 84% are currently working or studying in the UK, but are shut out from much of the benefits system when they need it

  • Almost a quarter of a million key workers have No Recourse to Public Funds

People who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) describe feeling “helpless” and “invisible” as they struggle to survive without support, according to a groundbreaking report from Citizens Advice.

No Recourse to Public Funds is a condition attached to work, family and study visas which restricts access to much of the welfare safety net for almost 1.4 million people, including around 175,000 children. This includes vital benefits like Universal Credit and child benefit and a range of other support like homelessness assistance or access to refuges that rely on public funds to operate. 

People with NRPF are locked out from support when they need it, despite their contributions to the UK’s economy and society. Over half (53%) of people with NRPF are in work and a further 31% are studying. Many (40%) have lived in the UK for more than five years and are building their life here. Almost a quarter of million of those in work are key workers, in professions like healthcare, social work, social care or transport.

The first ever representative survey of people with No Recourse to Public Funds reveals some of the heart-breaking challenges people with NRPF face with little or no help from the benefits system. Many have been pushed into crisis by the pandemic, others struggle with low pay or insecure work.

  • People with NRPFare four times more likely to be behind on at least one essential bill (81% against 20% for the UK population)with rent, utilities and council tax the most common bills missed.

  • Almost half (48%) reportliving in overcrowded accommodation and 1 in 5 (18%) have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity.

  • Three-quarters (75%) have suffered from at least one negative consequence of having NRPF, including not being able to feed themselves or their family, or afford clothing and footwear appropriate for the weather.

  • 1 in 4 (23%) already can’t afford to heat their homes. With big price rises now kicking in for fuel bills, many more are likely to face impossible choices this winter.

The research also shows that people with NRPF are finding it hard to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Rates of part-time and insecure work have both increased and a huge majority of people with NRPF (79%) are earning less now than before the pandemic.

Ada’s* story: “To feel there was no support out there; it was awful”

Ada moved to the UK to study nursing as an international student and paid for her studies over two years. Her children joined her a few months later after she organised visas for them. 

Last year, she landed a job in nursing. However, her relationship with her husband was abusive and she left the marriage despite her fears about lack of support. She struggled financially and was nearly left homeless.

Ada now lives in private accommodation with her children, working full time and taking on extra shifts to make enough money to get by. She relates how she’s having to borrow money from friends as she’s often short. Ada is exhausted both physically and mentally but says she doesn't have a choice but to work as many hours as she can.

She describes her situation:

“I live from paycheck to paycheck, I often get short, I go into my overdraft and have to borrow from friends.

“It makes me angry that I have no recourse to public funds. We’re not exempt from paying tax, but we are exempt from receiving public funds, that seems unfair. We do what every other individual in the UK does, we pay our tax. There are genuine cases where people are struggling. 

“It took me a lot to walk away from my marriage but I had to think about my children. They were suffering. I knew it would be tough as I’d have no access to financial support. At one point I was nearly homeless as I was signed off work being unwell with my mental health. 

“To feel there was no support out there, it was awful. I’m now just so exhausted. I have looked to see if there’s any support out there and there just isn’t anything for me.“

Amanda Gibson, an advisor who works with people with No Recourse to Public Funds at Citizens Advice Sheffield, said:

“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen more people who’ve lost their jobs and are now facing a situation they never imagined they would. 

“But the cruelty of the NRPF policy is that it can hit like a hammer-blow anyone who’s subject to the restriction. It limits so many people’s life chances.

“I’ve spoken to people who were in tears because they have to share a bed with their children as they can only afford one duvet. Or women experiencing domestic abuse, who can’t access refuges. Or older people who’ve walked across town in the middle of winter in sandals to try and get some help. 

“And the sad reality is that, with the rules how they are right now, any help they can get is so limited.”

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The welfare safety net should be there to protect all of us when we fall on hard times. Yet every day, up and down the country, Citizens Advice advisors are trying to find help for people for whom this help is just not available.

“Many people who are subject to No Recourse to Public Funds have lived in this country for years. Many are the key workers who kept the country going during the pandemic. Yet despite all of the contributions they make, they are locked out from support when they need it most.

“With a cost of living crisis looming, people with NRPF face a precipice with no safety net. It is time for the government to look again at this unfair and deeply harmful policy.”

Citizens Advice is calling for the government to provide people building their lives in the UK with access to the welfare safety net by removing the NRPF condition for those who are habitually resident here.

Notes to editors

  1. Ada’s name has been anonymised to protect her identity

  2. No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) is a condition attached to most temporary visas under section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. People given this condition are legally unable to apply for the vast majority of benefits, including Universal Credit, Housing Benefit and Child Benefit.It applies to most non-EEA migrants without Indefinite Leave to Remain. In a response to a petition calling for government to suspend NRPF, the Home Office responded that applying the NRPF condition to those with a temporary immigration status was needed to ensure that “those seeking to establish a life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration”.

  3. 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. Analysis undertaken by the Migration Observatory for Citizens Advice in 2020 revealed that, at the end of 2019, at the end of 2019, about 1.376 million people held valid UK visas that would usually have the NRPF condition.

  4. Savanta ComRes interviewed 397 adults online from 21st June to 23rd August 2021 in England and Wales who have NRPF attached to their leave to remain. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of people with NRPF attached to their leave to remain (by age, gender, region and type of visa). Respondents from the online survey were invited to take part in in-depth telephone interviews, of which 9 took part from 8th to 30th September 2021.

  5. Savanta ComRes is an independent research consultancy, specialising in public policy and communications. We work with a wide range of clients across the Public, Private and Third sectors to deliver high-quality and robust research.

  6. 19.14% of those polled identified themselves as key workers. Using the Migration Observatory estimate of an adult population of 1,200,515 adults with NRPF attached to their visa, this equates to 229,779 key workers among those with NRPF attached to their visa.

  7. 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.

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

  9. We helped 2.4 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2020-21. And we had 40 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  10. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,600 service outlets across England and Wales.

  11. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with. 

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