Policy and Campaigns

HMSC is committed to working with our visitors and alongside other organisations in the sector to address systemic issues at the heart of the immigration system.

In high demand: visitors queue for advice at HMSC

We believe in the importance of working with other migrant support organisations to make the greatest possible impact. Below are some of our previous policy and advocacy activities aiming to improve the personal wellbeing and legal position of migrants.

The Home Office has been offering ‘voluntary departures’ to Rwanda. Reportedly this has been happening without people receiving proper legal advice or language support, and with offers of £3,000. We joined other migrant solidarity organisations in a letter to the Home Secretary highlighting several concerns with this policy, including the lack of public and parliamentary scrutiny, the absence of informed consent, and the potential risks individuals may face in Rwanda. Read the letter here.

Many HMSC visitors applying for leave to remain must pay an immigration health surcharge (IHS) on top of their visa application fees. From February 2024 onward, the IHS rate rose to £1,035 per adult per year, representing a 66% increase. Visa fees also surged, further forcing many into poverty, debt, and destitution to be able to pay for these. We signed a joint briefing by Migrant Voice highlighting their adverse effects on individuals and communities, calling for the government to repeal these increases, and advocating for fairer policies. Read the briefing here.

HMSC submitted evidence to the review of civil legal aid (RoCLA) launched by the Ministry of Justice in 2023 to identify options that will improve the civil legal aid system. Our response details our difficulties in attempting to help visitors access immigration and asylum legal aid advice, with many referrals going unanswered. View our submission here.

Many HMSC visitors struggle financially and are forced to live in severe financial hardship due to conditions on their immigration status. We responded to the APPG on Migration and the APPG on Poverty joint call for evidence on how UK immigration policies contribute to poverty amongst migrant communities, what the experience of our visitors has been as a result, and what needs to change. Read our response here.

The joint inquiry launched its summary report in April 2024, which you can view here.

Alongside other charitable organisations supporting migrants, HMSC signed a statement for local authorities expressing concern about the impacts of the Illegal Migration Act (IMA). The statement highlighted the risk of homelessness, destitution, exploitation, deteriorating health and a high number of people living in limbo unable to regularise their status for years. All of these will impact local authorities by creating additional pressures on services and conflicting with local authority duties to safeguard and support vulnerable residents.

The statement includes a list of actions local authorities can do to challenge, prepare for and mitigate the impact of the Act, including urging the government to repeal it, raising awareness of its impacts amongst staff, opposing plans to establish detention centres and asylum reception centres, putting in firewalls around services, funding immigration advice and carrying out safeguarding reviews. Read the statement here.

Recent changes in Home Office procedure for ending asylum support have drastically reduced the move-on period for people whose refugee status has been newly recognised. Many are now being given as little as 7 days notice for evictions. This is a timeframe that has made it near-impossible to secure accommodation and access mainstream welfare before they are evicted and cut off from asylum support. It is already resulting in a sharp rise in homelessness and rough sleeping. We signed a joint letter to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to raise our concerns about the impact of the changes on refugees, as well as voluntary and statutory services. View the letter here.

We worked with Public Law Project to co-author a research report compiling the latest available figures on immigration and asylum legal aid. The report illustrates what HMSC and our visitors experience daily: people are unable to access justice as dwindling legal aid capacity is outweighed by increased demand resulting from Home Office decisions. Out of 864 attempts to refer visitors to legal aid providers, we were only successful in 4.1% of referrals. Read the report here.

This information was gathered as part of pre-litigation research into a proposed judicial review against the Lord Chancellor, who, under s. 1(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has a duty to ‘make legal aid available’ in England & Wales for certain types of civil legal services, including specified immigration and asylum issues. Public Law Project has taken the first step in bringing legal proceedings against the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC, arguing that he is in breach of his constitutional duty. Find out more about the legal challenge here.

HMSC contributed to a report on the issues facing young practitioners in the immigration and asylum legal aid sector. The report discusses the consequences these issues may have on access to justice. Read the report here. Our data covered a six month period in which only 3% of referrals made on behalf of visitors in need of legal aided representation were successful. View our statistics and case studies here.

HMSC joined a group of 47 organisations in submitting a response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The submission argued that current provision of legal aid is not compliant with the UK’s human rights obligations. There is a lack of capacity in the legal aid immigration sector with demand far outstripping supply. This means that “half of individuals seeking asylum and other vulnerable migrants (including minors and victims of trafficking and modern slavery) are now unable to access legal aid to ensure protection of their human rights.”

The submission calls for improved legal aid rates, reform of legal aid bureaucracy, access providers across the country, improved decision making from the Home Office, and an end to wider hostile environment policies. Read the submission here.

HMSC joined over 170 other organisations and individuals supporting people seeking asylum to outline our concerns about the unfair, flawed and rushed approach to the ‘Asylum Questionnaire’. The joint letter to the Home Secretary explains the false assumptions underpinning the problem: “that a person seeking asylum, who may not be literate in English or at all, who may may be experiencing mental health problems or trauma, who may not have mental capacity, and who may be homeless, will be able to receive and complete this long, complex, and poorly drafted questionnaire without legal representation.”

Among a list of recommendations, the letter asks the Home Secretary to confirm questionnaire incompletion will not result in asylum claims being withdrawn. It also urges the Home Secretary to simplify the questionnaire, have it accompanied by a relevant translation and a user-friendly guide for the completion. The Home Office ought to ensure that the questionnaire is issued to individuals with legal representatives and give time for individuals to find and access legal representation. If it is not willing to do so, the Home Secretary should confirm how the policy in its existing form guarantees procedural fairness and respects the right of access to justice. View the Joint Letter here. Robert Jenrick, the Minister of State for Immigration, replied to the letter in May 2023. You can read his response here.

HMSC intern Emerald Rose carried out a focus group of our visitors in October 2021 to better understand the barriers they face in accessing immigration advice and their experiences of HMSC’s services. Emerald summarised her findings in this report.

HMSC and a group of homeless grassroots organisations have written a joint letter to local authorities requesting to see action plans for supporting homeless non-UK nationals in their area over the winter months and beyond. The organisations urge Local Authorities to release their action plans, reveal what other services and support will be provided and share how they have advocated to Central Government for a change in the law regarding NRPF restriction which pushes many people into destitution. Read the full letter here.

HMSC has joined a collective of migrants’ rights organisations and individuals to express ‘deep concern’ for those facing homelessness following the decision to re-commence evictions of people living in asylum accommodation.

HMSC and others are calling for an immediate halt to the evictions of people who have been refused asylum, as well as for a fully funded duty to be placed on Local Authorities to accommodate people with NRPF conditions. This comes as the UK returns to Covid-19 alert level 4 with cases of the virus increasing.

The joint letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary said,

“We support the UK Government’s aim to eradicate rough sleeping in this Parliament; however it is clear that this cannot be achieved if evictions from asylum accommodation proceed in this way, and without an end to NRPF conditions which stop Local Authorities from being able to provide support to everyone who needs it. We therefore ask that you immediately reverse this decision so as to prevent people who have been refused asylum becoming homeless and destitute, and to protect the health and safety of both individuals and the general public.”

HMSC is calling on the UK Government to ensure that children from low-income migrant families, and those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), receive free school meals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty organisations and charities signed a joint letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, urging him to confirm that children living in poverty, including those affected due to their parents’ immigration status, will be eligible for free school meals permanently.

Update: As of April 2022, the government has permanently extended free school meal eligibility to include children from low income families with NRPF. The Children’s Society has more information and resources on this here.

More than a hundred charities, campaign groups, lawyers and local councillors have urged local councils not to evict homeless people with NRPF from emergency accommodation provided through the Covid-19 homelessness response. The open letter also asks councils not to share homeless people’s information with the Home Office without their consent and to lobby for an end to the ‘no recourse to public funds (NRPF)’ system.

Migrants are particularly exposed to the racialised violence that is endemic among government institutions such as the Home Office. Local authorities have the power to mitigate the most harmful effects that impact migrants and should adopt anti-racist solutions: demand the abolition of NRPF policy and practice; commit to no data sharing; provide sanctuary. Read our open letter to local authorities here.

HMSC volunteers Blue and Nandini led on researching and writing a report submitted by HMSC to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s Inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private sector. It draws from HMSC’s experience trying to support homeless and rough sleeping migrants during the crisis. Read the report here.