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No Recourse To Public Funds

For many seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, the UK Government and media has deployed extremely damaging discourse in relation to those seeking asylum, in an effort to minimise the plight of many that have had to flee war, persecution, and risk to life.  The experiences and danger is real, yet many in general society remain unaware how frightened and alone many seeking asylum are, in a new community - at the mercy of the UK Home Office, especially when their initial claim for asylum is denied.

Olivia Ndoti is a Zambian national that has secured leave to remain in the UK in 2017, after being forced to live in Scotland completely destitute, alone and frightened after fleeing domestic abuse since arrival in the United Kingdom.

Since then, Olivia has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue of No Recourse to Public Funds and the devastating impact it has on many women living in Scotland.  Olivia's quest took her to give evidence to the Scottish Government Equalities Committee, and now to working with Women Integration Network to support those faced with similar injustices.

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It was a couple of days after she had given birth when Olivia was called for a meeting with social work. Awaiting the outcome of a human rights application for leave to remain in the UK, Olivia was not entitled to any Home Office support. With nowhere to live and no money to live on, she had applied to her local authority for housing and financial support six months into her pregnancy, with the help of her midwife, but had yet to receive an answer.

But, to her horror, when the meeting began the conversation quickly turned to questions over her right to live in the UK, and what her immigration status would mean for her ability to care for her newborn baby.

Speaking to Holyrood, she said: “I had a caesarean and they came to me, just after, and said that if I didn’t have anywhere to go then they would think of other alternatives, which I thought meant taking the baby from me. It scared me. That was within three or four days of me giving birth. It was really bad. I still had stitches on when I had the meeting with them. It was really cruel.

"I had a caesarean and they came to me, just after, and said that if I didn’t have anywhere to go then they would think of other alternatives, which I thought meant taking the baby from me. It scared me”.   Olivia Ndoti

“When I went to the meeting in the hospital, I thought they were going to tell me where they had found me accommodation – ‘this is where you will be with the baby, and this is the support you can get from us’. But it went on to asking me about my immigration status, about how I got into the country, about where I would take the baby when I was discharged.

“They wanted to keep an eye on me and the hospital wouldn’t discharge me until they knew where I was going. They kept asking where I was going to take the baby to, but I got confused because I had had to have two pints of blood put into me [after the birth] and I was still very weak. I had six people from the social work department in a meeting with me and I had no one, apart from the midwife, who was going to support me.”

Finally, friends helped Olivia, with a friend-of-a-friend offering her a room, short term, until she could arrange Home Office support. She waited another six months for local authority support, with no money for food or nappies for her baby. Eventually, after engaging legal help, she was offered £25 per fortnight to live on.

It was only the help of friends, as well as support from the Asylum Seeker Housing Project (ASH) and Positive Action in Housing, that kept her off the street.

Eventually she received £25 per week. “I couldn’t budget with it. I had friends who applied for nappies from the baby bank. It was the community who helped with baby clothes and baby food. I was breastfeeding and it was a really hard time.”

It was cases like Olivia’s which prompted the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) to launch an inquiry into destitution among people with insecure immigration status, bringing forth more stories of local authorities attempting to prevent some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland – including children – from receiving vital services to which they were entitled.

Natalia Farmer, a Glasgow Caledonian University PhD researcher based at ASH, provided MSPs with a troubling account of supporting vulnerable people in meetings with social services.  

 

She said: “In the assessment meetings, I have been disturbed by how Olivia has been spoken to, even with me there as an advocate. She has been called an illegal immigrant in meetings, which I have found highly disturbing and inappropriate. Olivia has an IS96 form and is not in the UK unlawfully. That sets a really destructive tone.​

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In addition, social work should take a human rights perspective, but I have found that it has been taking more of a Home Office immigration perspective, which is not really social work’s remit. I have found that disturbing. Inaccurate information has been given as well. When I have taken legal documentation regarding the policy of no recourse to public funds, I have been told that Olivia cannot be accommodated because she has no recourse to public funds, even though she is actually entitled to be accommodated.

Olivia's Educational Work

Olivia is also involved in regularly sharing her experiences with Social Work students to raise awareness of the systematic responsibilities of statutory organisations in relation to Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

You can read Olivia’s Case Study information on The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) website here.

You can watch Olivia providing evidence to the Scottish Government Equalities and Human Rights Committee below.

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