Charities pull out of controversial government homelessness scheme

The charities express concern that their participation in the Rough Sleeping Support Service could lead to their service users being deported

Two charities have pulled out of a controversial government scheme being used to obtain data that could lead to the deportation of non-UK rough sleepers.

The London-based homelessness charities Camden Routes Off The Streets and the Single Homeless Project pulled out of the Rough Sleeping Support Service after an investigation by the campaign group Liberty.

Research by Liberty found two charities and six councils had signed up to the RSSS since it was relaunched in September last year.

It concluded the RSSS could lead to the deportation of rough sleepers because it asked signatory organisations to sign up to a 19-page user agreement, which lists “deportation” among four possible outcomes, telling them to give rough sleeping clients the opportunity to read it before signing a permission form.

The RSSS’ written consent form says that while “the service is not intended to identify or locate immigration offenders,” there is a “possibility that you may be required to leave the UK” if you have no lawful basis to remain.

Camden ROTS said it only entered the scheme through its relationship with the local council and had since deregistered because “it fundamentally conflicts with our values”.  

The charity said it went through the small print of the scheme’s agreement paperwork with a magnifying glass and found it was more akin to a Facebook or Apple user agreement than a support service.

The Home Office contends that individuals with unresolved immigration statuses cannot access the local authority support they might be entitled to and the RSSS supports them to resolve their status in order to gain access to support.

It denys the service has an enforcement approach, but admits action might be considered on a case-by-case basis, such as if the individual has serious criminal convictions.

Rough sleepers are clearly told before they decide to engage with the service how their information may be used, said the HO, and the RSSS user agreement clearly explains these responsibilities and that additional next steps.

The SHP charity told Liberty it immediately deregistered as a result of its findings, saying it had used the RSSS “in good faith” but did not want to use “any scheme that puts [clients’] futures at risk”.

A spokesperson for Camden ROTS said it left the scheme at the end of last month after discussion with Camden Council, which commissions its services. 

“This followed Camden Council conducting a careful investigation into the implications of membership, and confirming that neither of our organisations would provide personal data to the Home Office that could lead to the deportation of rough sleepers. 

“This is absolutely central to our values as a team - the welfare and individual rights of the people we work with are of paramount importance to us”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Rough Sleeping Support Service is an enhanced service for local authorities and registered charities to establish whether a rough sleeper has access to public funds. 

“It is designed to identify what support or benefits they can access or assist them resolve their status so they can receive further help.

“If the service establishes that an individual has no leave or immigration status, this information is not routinely shared for the purposes of immigration action.”

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