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How to pay the bills and rent? Advising migrants who are subject to NRPF

As advisers, how best can you help migrants who are subject to the no recourse to public funds rule and perhaps facing destitution or homelessness? Don’t balk at the challenge: there may be options.

No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a standard condition applied to most temporary or time-limited visas. This includes spouse visas, work visas and student visas. Note that refugees are not subject to NRPF, despite having limited leave to remain. Likewise, NRPF does not apply to those migrants who have obtained indefinite leave to remain – also known as settlement.

The NRPF restriction is marked on a person’s Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). For those without a BRP, the NRPF condition is likely to be found in their ‘vignette’ (a sticker in their passport).

Migrants who are subject to NRPF should not apply for public funds. The consequences for NRPF migrants who do claim public funds (whether inadvertently or not) can be very serious. Not only is this a criminal offence, but the person’s visa could be cancelled and future visa applications refused. The worst case scenario could involve immigration detention and deportation. We always stress to welfare adviser trainees that they should never take a risk with NRPF: if you are not sure if NRPF applies, always seek specialist advice.

The NRPF restriction only applies to ‘public funds’. Contrary to some misconceptions, this does not mean all social security benefits. Rather, ‘public funds’ refers to a finite list of social security benefits that are listed in paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules. They are primarily means-tested benefits and include Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Discretionary Support. Contribution-based benefits are not public funds.

Another misconception is that NRPF applies to all public services paid for through general taxation such as the NHS and education. This is incorrect: separate eligibility criteria govern access to such services. The fact that a migrant is subject to NRPF has no bearing on whether they meet the criteria for other public services.

The Law Centre regularly advises migrants about NRPF. The NRPF restriction often only tends to become a problem if the person loses their employment for whatever reason. Without a monthly salary, the migrant’s immediate concern is how to pay their living costs, including rent. The Law Centre often receives calls from people in this position who, needless to say, are extremely stressed.

Luckily, there are a couple of options. The first option to consider is claiming contribution-based benefits such as new style Jobseekers Allowance. Entitlement will depend on whether the person paid enough national insurance contributions while working. Unfortunately, this type of JSA does not include housing costs and it is limited to a 6 month criteria. Nonetheless, the income may provide some relief. Our social security team can advise on eligibility.

The second option to consider is requesting the Home Office lift the NRPF restriction.  This paves the way to social security and/or housing assistance. Whether this is possible depends on the individual’s visa however it is always worth exploring as it can be a lifeline  – especially for households where there are dependent children.  Read the Law Centre’s NRPF briefing for more information. The assistance of an immigration adviser or solicitor is necessary.

The third option to consider is charitable support. For example, the Red Cross Crisis Fund can provide interim financial support to migrants who are caught by the NRPF condition and who are taking steps to remedy their financial situation, for example, by seeking to get the NRPF restriction lifted.

There may be other immigration remedies available in particular circumstances; for example, victims and survivors of domestic abuse may be able to avail of a concession that provides access to public funds.

Finally, depending on the individual circumstances, employment advice might be helpful. Our employment team can help identify, for example, if the migrant is owed any monies from their employer, for example, as a result of unfair dismissal.

Case study

“Abiola” is from West Africa and came to Northern Ireland on a work visa to take up a job in the care sector. The NRPF condition applies. He was accompanied by his wife and young children.

Unfortunately Abiola suddenly became very ill and could no longer work. Soon in rent arrears and facing a serious illness, Abiola and his family were in a very difficult position. Members of their community and church rallied around and a community worker signposted the family to the Law Centre.

We applied to the Home Office and got the NRPF condition lifted. This enabled the family to obtain social security, including living and housing costs.