A stranger in a strange land who has run out of money for food

As an immigrant myself, I can tell you, being an outsider isn’t always easy. No matter how long you’ve been in your new country or how welcoming the people are, there is always a nagging feeling that you don’t quite belong. There are cultural norms you’ll never truly be a part of or fully understand. And there are things back home that can never be fully replicated here.

But more than cultural differences, there are very real legal consequences of being a person from abroad. One thing that can be particularly harsh for some of us who come to live in the UK from elsewhere is the lack of access to social security.

For the last five years, I have had a note inscribed on my immigration documents: ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’. Not all immigrants have this condition, but those of us that do are typically* unable to access a long list of public funds. Essentially, most means-tested benefits (i.e. benefits that take your income into account like universal credit and housing benefit) and disability benefits are off the table.

Citizens of EEA countries will not have this condition on their immigration status if they move to the UK, but they are not automatically eligible for means-tested benefits. Most benefit claimants must have what is called a ‘right to reside’. Proving you have a right to reside when you are not a UK citizen or permanent resident can be very difficult and time-consuming, with applications and appeals sometimes going on for months. And sometimes you simply don’t have one.

So, what happens if someone with no recourse to public funds or an EEA national with no right to reside runs out of money for food? Is charity the only thing standing between them and hunger?

The short answer is no. There are things you can try if you find yourself in this situation or are helping someone who is.

Firstly, the Scottish Welfare Fund does not have a ‘right to reside’ requirement.** If you are an EEA national, but you have been told you cannot get DWP benefits because you don’t have the correct ‘right to reside’, you CAN still access the Scottish Welfare Fund for a short term cash grant.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Welfare Fund does count as ‘public funds’ so those of us with no recourse to public funds are usually unable to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund. However, social work has a duty to promote welfare in their area under section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. This means vulnerable adults who have run out of money for food can contact their local authority social work department and request help to buy food.

Similarly, families with children can request assistance under section 22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. These payments are not public funds, so someone with no recourse to public funds can request these without worrying about their immigration status. These are solely for when all other alternatives have been exhausted, but they are an option for someone who is unable to access DWP benefits or the Scottish Welfare Fund and has no other way of accessing money for food.

It can be tough being an immigrant, but it is comforting to know that while we try to make a new life in our new home, there are options if things get especially hard. No one should have to rely on charity to feed themselves and their family.

Author: David Hilber, Project Officer

* If you are not an EEA citizen but have a right to reside in the UK (e.g. you are the family member of an EEA national with a right to reside in the UK), any conditions on your immigration status (including no recourse to public funds) do not have any effect so long as that right to reside remains
** Section 6.11 of the SWF Statutory Guidance