On 7 May 2020, the High Court upheld a challenge by an eight-year-old British boy and his mother, W and J, challenging the lawfulness of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) policy introduced in 2012 by the then home secretary, Theresa May. The policy has meant that a NRPF condition has been imposed on all migrants granted the legal right to live and work in the UK on the basis of having strong ties to this country, including foreign parents of British children. Such individuals, despite having the lawful right to live in the UK, are therefore prevented from accessing the same support that helps other low-earning parents to survive, including housing benefit, child benefit and tax credits.
In 2014, following legal action, the home secretary allowed people facing destitution to apply for a ‘change of conditions’ concession, which could remove the NRPF condition. Changes have also been made to the policy during the COVID-19 crisis.
The court was provided with evidence that the NRPF condition, despite the 2014 concession, has trapped thousands of families, such as W and J, in dire poverty and that the long-promised review in 2020 led to no significant changes.
In a significant ruling, the court held that the NRPF policy contains insufficient safeguards to prevent breaches under article 3, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. The court’s decision is important not only because of the effect it will have on thousands of families, but also because demonstrating a breach of article 3 is a high threshold to meet.