IslingtonTribune

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Lockdown limbo: engineer stuck on the streets in virus nightmare

47-year-old who came to the UK 20 years ago found himself suddenly out of work and unable to claim state support

26 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Kevin Hatfield, who lived in Highbury New Park, lost his job and his home due to the Covid-19 crisis

AN engineer who has lived in the UK for 20 years lost his job and was booted out onto the streets when the coronavirus crisis struck after finding the government’s immigration system barred him from getting access to support.

Kevin Hatfield, 47, who lived in Highbury New Park, said the treatment he has experienced at the hands of the government is “disgusting” and made him feel like he was “worthless”.

For the past three months he has lived off £45 a week and food­banks as he could not claim Universal Credit or any benefit support.

He is one of 43 people Islington Council have identified as being homeless and having No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status.

Mr Hatfield said: “It’s been 20 years of working and paying tax in this country and I never asked for a penny.

“Now, in my time of need I get f*** all. It’s disgusting. In March I lost my job and my home and I was out on the streets sleeping in parks and anywhere I could. I phoned every department in the UK: housing, benefits, DWP and they all said you can’t have anything.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson shocked many last month when he admitted during a scrutiny committee meeting that he did not understand how NRPF worked and promised to review the policy.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants sent Mr Johnson a letter the following day, signed by more than 30 migrants’ rights organisations, saying that it was “truly a shocking policy” and they welcomed the review.

But less than a week later Mr Johnson appeared to backtrack when he was asked about it again in the House of Commons.

Mr Hatfield said: “I hate that man. He needs to know what he has done. He has left so many of us feeling worthless. It’s really shocking.”

Mr Hatfield moved to the UK in April 2000 on an ancestry visa from South Africa. He has applied for indefinite leave to remain several times over the years but claims he failed the tests because he is dyslexic.

The electrical cable engineer had been employed up until March when the financial impact of the coronavirus meant that he lost his job as those who have NRPF are barred from accessing the government’s furlough Job Retention Scheme.

In a desperate last bid for help, he contacted Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn who put him in touch with the council’s emergency team.

They have now set him up with some food supplies, temporary accommodation and advice on legal support.

The issue of NRPF cases was discussed during a housing scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday

Karen Lucas, the council’s head of housing needs, said: “The team have taken on a lot of additional people, that is clear. We were quick to take on additional capacity – two staff have moved to the NRPF team as we realised we needed additional capacity. So we are doing everything we can to make sure those people have access to immigration advice.

“We have just extended a contract with an organisation to take on additional capacity for specialist immigration legal advice.

“We’re working really hard with that cohort of people as we usually would. There are two different groups of people: there’s those that we would normally accommodate under the Children’s Act or because they are vulnerable adults, and there are those we’re accom­modating on a humanitarian basis.”

Up to Friday last week the council had accommodated 293 people through the Government’s Everyone In funding and 43 of these were NRPF – about 15 per cent.

Maxine Holdsworth, the Town Hall’s director of housing, said: “We are working through a lot of the detail of this at the moment as lockdown eases. We’re devising a detailed programme of support to help people move on to alternative accommodation.

“The thing with no recourse to public funds, that does involve applying for settled status, and where appropriate, it involves contacting the Home Office on their behalf, with their consent, to try and work with immigration lawyers to regularise their immigration status.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have taken action to support those with no recourse to public funds during the pandemic, including government measures such as rent protections, allocating more than £3.2billion to local authorities and £750million to charities to reach out and support the most vulnerable.

“Those on the human rights or family visas can, of course, apply to have no recourse to public funds conditions lifted and we encourage those eligible to do so.”

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