Rights and Entitlements

Understanding the rights and entitlements of migrants and asylum seekers living in Scotland is a complex area for local authorities to navigate. Whether or not a person is allowed to access support such as benefits and welfare services, depends on their immigration status and can vary significantly. Some migrants are only permitted to live in the UK if they are able to support themselves without accessing public funds or causing any member of their family to require access to public funds. This is often termed as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) and affects various categories of migrants including those who are sponsored and people on work, student or family visas.

This is a complex legislative area which is subject to relatively frequent change. To support local authorities in understanding the rights and entitlements of migrants and refugees COSLA lobbies on the introduction and monitors implementation of relevant legislation. In January 2018 COSLA issued an update to local authorities on the implementation of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts (PDF).

Over the last few years local authorities have seen an increase in destitution amongst people with NRPF and some EEA nationals living in Scotland. A destitute family or individual may experience homelessness, and/or be unable to meet their basic living needs. They are likely to face significant hardship and can be more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Local authorities are providing social work assistance, temporary accommodation and financial support to some of the most vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers in this situation, including children whose parents are destitute and adults with care needs. This is provided through limited powers and duties set out in devolved legislation at a time when council budgets are already stretched.

To support an effective statutory response to migrant destitution, COSLA hosts a No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network. This allows for sharing of information and good practice amongst Scottish local authorities. We are also working with the Scottish Government to produce updated practice guidance and training in 2018. This will support local authorities to make decisions about the provision of services to migrants and asylum seekers who are eligible for support from local authorities. New guidance will be available on our website later in the year. In the meantime, the following resources may be useful in supporting local authorities to understand their responsibilities in this area. 

• Establishing Migrant Access to Benefits and Local Authority Services (PDF) was commissioned by COSLA in 2012 to provide guidance on these issues. This guidance is not, and should not, be viewed as either definitive or prescriptive, but as a tool to support local authorities as part of a broader decision-making process. Additionally, there have been a number of changes to the law since its publication and local authorities should be cautious when using this to support decision-making.  

• The NRPF network in England is based within Islington Council and provides a range of resources to support local authorities including a a web tool for local authorities assessing and supporting families who have NRPF. Some of these are applicable UK-wide. They also provide training and advice on NRPF issues.

• NHS Inform provides advice on the health rights of asylum seekers and migrants. 

• Housing Rights website has information about the housing rights of new arrivals and a list of organisations who can help, as well as advice for destitute migrants.