Asylum seeker's high court win against Brighton council is 'victory for common sense'

Asylum seeker's high court win against Brighton council is 'victory for common sense'

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CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed a high court ruling in favour of an asylum seeker who was made homeless during Covid-19 and was refused accommodation by the council.

Timon Ncube, who had fled Zimbabwe after being threatened by the government there, was homeless in September last year and was living on the streets in Brighton and Hove, often spending nights at Brighton railway station.

He had been refused asylum at the time and suffered with physical health problems, including impaired vision due to diabetes, and his mental health had also deteriorated.

Mr Ncube had been homeless in Brighton and had spent nights sleeping at the railway station

Mr Ncube sought accommodation through Brighton and Hove City Council in October last year through the "Everyone In" policy, which was launched by the government last spring to fund accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic.

But the council refused to accommodate Mr Ncube, stating that his "unlawful status disqualifies him from local authority support", as he had no recourse to public funds.

Mr Ncube lodged an urgent appeal for asylum at the Court of Appeal and was granted accommodation in Swindon by the Home Office in November, during the second national lockdown.

However, at the High Court today, Mr Justice Freedman ruled local authorities do have the power to house those with no recourse to public funds during Covid-19, including refused asylum seekers.

The ruling said the council "has powers under the Local Government Act 1972 in the context of an emergency involving danger to life affecting the street homeless, to take action to provide accommodation or secure assistance for them to avert, alleviate or eradicate the effect of Covid-19".

Mel Steel, director of Brighton charity Voices in Exile, which supports refugees and asylum seekers, described the court ruling as “a victory for common sense".

She said: "In a pandemic, we are only safe if we are all safe. For all of our sakes, nobody should be left to sleep on the streets, whatever their immigration status.

"We were baffled by the local authority’s apparently arbitrary decision to deny shelter to our client and hope that from now on, vulnerable people like Mr Ncube will be offered emergency accommodation and helped to navigate the Home Office’s complex asylum support system.

"We believe the council got this badly wrong.

"They should have intervened earlier to protect the wider public in Brighton and understood the principles of the ‘Everyone In’ programme – restricting community transmissions, protecting the NHS and saving lives.

"This ruling has made it clear it is lawful for local authorities to accomodate people with no recourse to public funds during the pandemic and they can use their ring-fenced funding to do this."

The 'Everyone In' policy was introduced last spring so local authorities could fund emergency accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic

Richard Williams, chairman of Sanctuary on Sea, the City of Sanctuary group in Brighton and Hove, said the judgment provides a "welcome clarification" for all councils on a complex intersection of immigration and housing law.

He said: "It should reassure local authorities around the country the law does allow them to offer emergency housing to people who need it during the Covid-19 pandemic, whatever their immigration status.

"We hope Brighton and Hove will join other cities of sanctuary and tell the government that they will not allow its hostile environment policies to undermine healthy, safe and welcoming communities.”

Councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones

Councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones, joint chairwoman of the council’s housing committee, said: “This case highlights the difficult position of councils that want to ensure people are protected regardless of their asylum status.

“In the absence of government guidance, we welcome the identification by the court of the additional, albeit limited, powers councils have to help people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and not entitled to support from other agencies where there is a danger to life.

“We would have preferred the government to act on our call to suspend the restrictions on assisting those with NRPF, but the court’s clarification of exactly where councils are able to offer assistance is helpful.

“We intend to use those additional powers where appropriate in all future work involving people with NRPF."