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London mother and two children kept homeless by racist rules

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A homeless London-born mother and her two children were denied help by Southwark Council, using racist immigration status rules, uncovered by Sadie Robinson
Issue 2462
Claire was born in south east London’s Lewisham Hospital
Claire was born in south east London’s Lewisham Hospital (Pic: Flickr: Reading Tom)

Southwark Council has said a homeless mother and her two children are “not eligible” for housing assistance because it says she doesn’t have a right to be in Britain.

Claire was born in Lewisham, south east London. She told Socialist Worker, “They talk about me having ‘claimed’ I was born in Britain. It hurts. Why do I have to confirm my nationality?

“I think I’m in a state of shock. I don’t sleep anymore and I’m not eating properly.”

Claire had lived in a two-bedroom ground floor flat in Peckham, south London since June 2009. But her landlord evicted her in January this year.

“I went to the council’s homeless unit,” she explained. “I believed that they would help me.

“They told me that I’m not eligible for help and the reason is that I’m illegally in the UK.”

The decision is based on the fact that Claire’s mother was born in Jamaica. 

Claire said her mother came to Britain in the 1970s when she was eight years old and has indefinite leave to remain.

The council said it had contacted the Home Office, and said it had no records of either of them applying for leave to remain in the UK (see below).


Claire turned to social services for help. They found her a single room in a unit above a pub. She has lived there with two of her children, aged six and two, since January. 

Many of her possessions are still in storage.

“I feel like I’m in prison,” she said. “There are 14 rooms and we have to share a kitchen and bathroom.

“I’m really upset and angry. I’m trapped. I need to think positively but it’s hard when it seems like there’s no way out.”

The council ruled that Claire’s mother did not have leave to remain in Britain at the time of her birth. 

In a letter to Claire it said, “You are therefore considered as a Jamaican national who does not have any leave to remain in the UK and therefore you are a person subject to immigration control who is ineligible for housing assistance.”

Her birth certificate confirms that she was born in Lewisham Hospital. Her children’s birth certificates state their mother’s place of birth as Lewisham, London.

The case shows up the madness of the immigration panic whipped up by the right. As Claire put it, “You’re guilty until proven innocent. The system is not set up to help us.”

Claire is a pseudonym

Home Office denies migrants access to services

Claire was refused housing assistance after Southwark council said the Home Office had no record of her mother applying for leave to remain in Britain.

Yet the Home Office does not keep records indefinitely.

It told Socialist Worker that records are logged on electronic systems and that “electronic records began in 2002”. 

It isn’t clear how records prior to 2002 are maintained.

The Home Office also confirmed to Socialist Worker that most applicants’ personal files are kept “for 15 years from the date of last action”.

There are some exceptions to this rule.

The record will be kept for 25 years if a person is a national of a country that currently requires a visa to enter Britain and has indefinite leave to remain. 

Similarly, if a person has acquired British citizenship, the Home Office will keep the record for 25 years from the date citizenship was granted.

The exceptions also apply to people with criminal convictions. 


So if a person is suspected or convicted of an offence with a sentence of12 months or more, the record will be kept until they’re 75. 

If the sentence was for 30 months or longer, the record would be kept until the person died.

The Home Office also confirmed that councils wishing to check an individual’s status could submit an information request. 

It said, “The Home Office then assesses whether the request is appropriate and then aims to provide this information via secure email within five working days.”

So where the Home Office deems the request not “appropriate” or no longer holds records no information will be given. 

Socialist Worker thinks that everyone should have the right to access services and benefits, regardless of their immigration status.

Yet this set-up potentially snatches that right from untold numbers of people.

Breach of human rights?

Britain is in the grip of a growing housing crisis.

But the problem isn’t that there are “too many” people or not enough homes. It’s that the misery it causes is Tory policy.

Some 60,940 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation by September last year. Yet there were over 635,000 empty homes in England alone. 

But many people can’t afford the rents private landlords demand.

Others lie derelict as landlords or councils refuse to invest in them. And more people are at the mercy of private landlords. Governments have refused to build more council housing. 

Instead, they’re pushing councils to demolish or sell off their stock for “redevelopment.”

The situation is so dire that charities have said the British government has breached its United Nations human rights commitment to provide decent housing.

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