ASIRT has recently begun working with ‘Tina’, the intelligent and formidable single mother of ‘Brendan’, who is 13.
Brendan is British. He acquired his citizenship from his father, Tina’s ex-partner, who has passed away. Tina, however, is not British.
Because of this, she is required by the Home Office to renew her period of leave to remain in the UK every 30 months, at a nominal cost of just over one thousand pounds. As a single mother, working minimum wage, zero-hours jobs, she didn’t have a thousand pounds lying around to renew her leave to remain once the original period expired 4 months ago- and still less did she have money to pay lawyers’ fees.
Before 2013, she might have been able to access legal representation to help with the submission of this application. Since the Legal Aid Sentencing and Prosecution of Offenders (LASPO) came into effect, however, this has not been possible. If people in Tina’s situation can’t afford to pay for private legal representation, and don’t access free legal services such as ours, they are left to their own devices.
So Tina, trying to make the best of a bad job, made an application to renew her status. The legislation being complicated, she filled in the wrong form. Moreover, not having been advised of her potential rights to request that the Home Office waived its application fee, she simply filled in her bank account details on the payment form, crossed her fingers, and hoped for the best.
But ‘the best’ didn’t happen. Inevitably, the Home Office rejected her application for further leave to remain in the UK. She has lost her eligibility to public funds, to the Housing Benefit, Tax Credits and free school meals which made hers and Brendan’s lives stable and relatively comfortable. She has accrued rent arrears, and is facing eviction.
She is terrified that she will be ‘deported’, or removed from the UK, and this anxiety is shared by Brendan. That cannot lawfully happen. As a Zambrano carer, she is lawfully resident in the UK for as long as Brendan is her dependent- or, at least, for as long as the UK remains within the European Union. But she presently cannot prove that status, and the fear, in any case, is all too real.
We will, of course, be helping her to reapply for leave to remain in the UK, and requesting that the Home Office’s fee be waived. There is no reason to doubt that that status will be granted, since Brendan is British, and totally dependent on his mother’s presence in the UK as a minor. But while that application is (re) considered by the Home Office, Brendan and Tina will be all but destitute, dependent on section 17 Children Act provision, potentially forced to move into Bed and Breakfast accommodation, and surviving on a weekly budget of around thirty five pounds per person.
So we effectively have a situation in which repeated crises and threats of destitution have been systematically engineered into a British child’s life, at no discernible benefit to anybody.
Brendan is going nowhere. His life, as a British national, is demonstrably here in the UK. Yet the conditions of his early life appear to be purposefully structured to make sure that he gets the worst start possible, conceivably severely damaging his ability to reach his full potential in his adult life. Because when legal aid and representation is taken out of the sphere of public provision, and fees to secure status in the UK are set at such a price that few can reasonably be expected to pay them, crisis is inevitable. And, rather than an unhappy accident, this appears to be a deliberate and entirely foreseeable social policy outcome.
Some five years ago, Birmingham City Council, recognizing the vacuum that had been created in the advent of LASPO, held a Scrutiny Inquiry into the provision of section 17 Children Act support to children and families, like Tina and Brendan, denied recourse to public funds.
Among the chief recommendations in that report was the observation that ‘it is in both the City Council’s interest and the interest of the families that good quality advocacy is available’ in order to resolve complex issues, and to prevent the occurrence and reoccurrence of crisis and destitution into which Tina and Brendan, like so many others, have spiraled. The local authority acknowledged that it would need to develop robust partnerships with voluntary sector agencies, like ASIRT, to provide the holistic and expert support such circumstances would require.
To date, regrettably little progress has been made to develop such partnerships or holistic partnerships, a state of affairs which has plainly detrimental impacts on the lives of many of Birmingham’s citizens, including Brendan and Tina- at considerable public expense.
We sincerely hope that meaningful action can now be to provide Brendan, and young people like him, with the stability and support they need and deserve.