New government policies on homelessness will create an atmosphere of “fear and distrust”, St Mungo’s has warned.
The charity was responding to guidance which will allow officials to strip foreign nationals of their right to stay in the UK if they are homeless and are thought to be “engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour”.
The Home Office said the powers would only be used as a last resort.
The guidance, which was published last week, will give the Home Office powers to refuse immigration applications if officials are “satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK and repeatedly refused offers of suitable support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour”.
The government will also be able to cancel an individual’s existing right to live in the UK on the same grounds.
St Mungo's: People will be less likely seek support
St Mungo's has not registered with the Rough Sleeping Support Service scheme.
Steve Douglas, the chief executive of St Mungo’s, said: “If the government’s intention was to allay fears that its new immigration rules were not intended to criminalise rough sleeping, or to penalise those who find themselves without a roof over their head, this guidance fails to do so.
“That people have to sleep on the streets is unacceptable and dangerous. And anyone who is in that situation should be able to reach out for support without fear of losing their right to live and work in this country.
“Our outreach teams work tirelessly to find and support people experiencing street homelessness.
“We believe the new guidance will affect this vital work as people sleeping rough become more distrustful of, and reluctant to engage with, the services there to help and support them.
“Along with other homelessness organisations and partners we will seek to raise these concerns with ministers, as a matter of urgency.”
St Mungo’s has already been campaigning as part of a coalition of charities including Crisis, Homeless Link and Shelter.
The policy also confirmed that charities are required to register with the Home Office before seeking help from the government in identifying the needs of homeless foreign nationals.
This requirement has not been placed on charities before, Civil Society News understands.
The guidance said: “The Rough Sleeping Support Service (RSSS) was initially launched in 2018 as part of the government’s rough sleeping strategy.
“The RSSS offers an enhanced service for local authorities and registered charities by providing a single point of contact to help establish a rough sleeper’s immigration status and to help staff assess their entitlements such as whether they have access to public funds, including housing.”
The RSSS is managed by immigration enforcement at the Home Office, which is responsible for identifying and removing people from the UK.
The guidance said that, from the end of last year, “charities or local authorities must first register their organisation to be able to access the service and become an RSSS user”.
Home Office: Only used 'as last resort'
A government spokesperson said: “The government has made clear that no one should be without a roof over their head.
“We have provided unprecedented funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, spending £750m this year.
“The immigration rule is discretionary and is only to be used as a last resort where a person repeatedly refuses offers of suitable support and is engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour.”
St Mungo's apologised in 2019 after it emerged that some of its outreach teams had previously shared data about homeless people with Home Office enforcement officials.