In the Autumn, I had the pleasure of chairing a meeting of organisations working across Bristol to support people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). NRPF status means that people don’t have access to a wide range of social security benefits and payments, including Universal Credit and Housing Benefit.
It affects a huge range of over 1 million people in the UK, including those seeking asylum, EU citizens, recent arrivals from Hong Kong, and young professionals here on a spousal or family visa. For these different groups, having NRPF status means that when things go wrong – maybe an illness or losing their job – they don’t have access to the welfare safety net that the rest of us have access to. As a result, many people with NRPF, along with their children and families, can face homelessness and destitution through no fault of their own.
Local Authorities receive no dedicated funding from central Government to support those with NRPF. During Covid, the Everyone In policy did briefly give us the chance to offer housing to everyone who needed it in the city. Knowing that this wouldn’t last forever, we set up a One City Task Force to bring together the skills and resources of Bristol City Council, the Homelessness sector and the Refugee sector to take a longer-term view. Through this collaboration we were able to help more than 75 people with NRPF successfully move on from the Everyone In accommodation rather than heading straight back to the streets, cutting rough sleeping by around 80%.
From this success, an idea was born: the Bristol Model of NRPF support. It’s a holistic and collaborative framework for bringing together services and support based on four key principles – design out destitution, informed and supported, included and involved and a safe place to stay. It builds on the insight and premise that when people have their basic needs catered for, they can then make progress in escaping NRPF-enforced destitution, either by finding new work or by changing their legal status. It also works on the principle that no single organisation or sector in the city can effectively support those with NRPF on their own.
At the meeting, we heard from several organisations about their experiences of working with the Bristol Model. Bristol Refugee Rights and the Big Issue have both worked hard to make sure that people’s lived experiences of NRPF are at the centre of these conversations, and we watched a powerful film that captures the crippling insecurity and hopelessness that NRPF can cause.
We also heard about how people have creatively found resources to help make the Bristol Model a reality. At the council we’re proud to have put the Model at the heart of our efforts to tackle rough sleeping, including our successful bid for funding from the Rough Sleeping Initiative over the next three years. This will secure some bed spaces for those with NRPF, caseworker capacity, access to legal advice from Bristol Law Centre and a specialist sub-group of our Rough Sleeping Partnership.
There is plenty more to do on this issue, and nobody is resting on any laurels. But we are confident that the Bristol Model gives us the right framework, one that is rooted in lived experience and consistent with the One City Approach. This work sits alongside efforts to tackle Bristol’s housing crisis through building enough new homes for our city and lobbying for required changes in legislation.
We are also truly humbled and grateful that, despite the unjust and often inhumane approach of the National Government on this, we live in a City of Sanctuary full of people and organisations willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone has the chance to build a life of dignity and purpose here in Bristol.