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Battle to survive coronavirus with no recourse to public funds - East Ham resident speaks out

PUBLISHED: 11:57 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:57 04 May 2020

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham

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A number of financial packages have been introduced to protect people and groups affected by coronavirus, such as the job retention furlough scheme, business support grants and an income support scheme for the self-employed.

Newham councillor Lakmini Shah is helping to distribute food to those with no recourse to public funds during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Lakmini ShahNewham councillor Lakmini Shah is helping to distribute food to those with no recourse to public funds during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Lakmini Shah

One group yet to be granted any sort of relief is those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), with East Ham MP Stephen Timms consistently vocal on this issue.

To have NRPF means that a person cannot apply for any state benefits, including universal credit and housing benefit, as part of their visa conditions to reside legally in the UK, prior to being eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (IDR).

Last week Mr Timms raised this issue in Parliament by asking Michael Gove whether the government will lift the NRPF restrictions for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “Hundreds of thousands of people working legally in the UK have no recourse to public funds, so stopping work means many have been left with no income at all.”

Food supplies being loaded into a van to be distributed to those with no recourse to public funds in East Ham. Picture: Lakmini ShahFood supplies being loaded into a van to be distributed to those with no recourse to public funds in East Ham. Picture: Lakmini Shah

Mr Gove confirmed the issue is “under review”, but in a subsequent comment article written to local Labour party members, Mr Timms called the government’s current stance “a disgrace”.

Mr Timms added that a new form has appeared on the Home Office website permitting people with NRPF to apply to have the restriction lifted, but comments that it is “a very complicated form and I haven’t yet heard of anyone completing it successfully”.

Despite his efforts, many people in his constituency remain in a perilous position.

An East Ham resident from Bangladesh, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Recorder:

“I have been in the UK for 11 years, and before coronavirus hit, I was applying for indefinite leave to remain for myself and my son. I made two appointments with the Home Office to get our fingerprints done, but both were cancelled. The first because of scheduling problems, the second because of coronavirus.”

The Home Office is now closed for such appointments, leaving her in limbo. She is legally allowed to apply for IDR, which if granted, would give her access to public funds.

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However, without completing the biometrics (fingerprints), which is currently impossible, she cannot continue with that application.

The result is that she remains bound by the terms of her current visa, which include NRPF.

She normally works for a cruise ship company on a zero-hour contract, but that isn’t happening this year. Instead she is left to rely on the generosity of others, who despite helping with food, cannot pay the bills.

“I have told my landlord that I can’t pay rent this month. They say I can pay it back in installments, but I don’t know where that money is going to come from.”

She says she feels “totally depressed” by the situation and is trying to shield this from her 14 and 16-year-old sons, adding that she can only afford the IDR application for one of them.

Though she understands why the Home Office has had to close for fingerprint appointments, she is dismayed that she and others in this position have no state help to fall back on.

They do, however, receive assistance at a local level. Councillor Lakmini Shah, who represents the East Ham South ward, explains that she has been co-ordinating the distribution of food packages to those with NRPF.

She has been doing this from home due to having asthma, using her connections to reach out to different groups. Though she is happy to do so, she says the current situation is “unsustainable”.

“I will have to be honest with people and say when there is nothing left.”

Cllr Shah said some women with NRPF have started working in care homes, simply because they are so fearful of not being able to earn money.

Having NRPF puts these women at “unnecessary risk”, she says.

Mr Timms promised he will continue to press the government and fight for this marginalised group, but for now they are stranded with no lockdown end date in sight.


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