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Camden pull out of government scheme that could deport rough sleepers

Local homelessness groups and charities had said they would "refuse to collude" with Camden over the programme

23 April, 2021

The scheme involves collecting sensitive data on rough sleepers

THE borough’s lead homelessness charity has confirmed it has pulled out of a widely-condemned government scheme being used to obtain data that could lead to the deportation of non-UK rough sleepers.

Routes off The Street Camden run by Change Grow Live, which is commissioned by Camden Council to run its homelessness services, was among six councils and two charities to have joined the Rough Sleeping Support Service (RSSS) since it was relaunched six months ago.

Documents revealing the organisation had signed up to RSSS, obtained by Liberty Investigates – a journalism unit of the human rights organisation Liberty – sparked anger among grassroots homelessness groups and charities, including The Museum of Homelessness, Street Storage, Streets Kitchen and Tricky Period.

In a joint statement this month, the groups said they would “refuse to collude with Camden Council and their commissioned homeless service Change Grow Live whilst they continue to work with the Home Office putting the lives of many of our homeless community in serious danger.”

The council has since revealed to the New Journal that they are no longer a part of the scheme, having withdrawn their membership last month “when the implications of membership were fully understood”.

They withdrew their membership on March 30, three days after Liberty and the Observer published their joint story on the relaunch of the scheme.

The Home Office claim the service gives express access to information to help undocumented rough sleepers establish their immigration status, which can then allow them to access public funds and help.

It was trialled in 2018 but was embroiled in controversy after the Observer revealed it was part of a Government plan to collect sensitive data on rough sleepers without their consent and then use it to deport those found to have no legal status.

Following a legal challenge by the Public Interest Law Centre, it was relaunched in September last year with a new requirement for charities and councils to obtain what it calls “fully informed consent”.

However, critics believe it is still an attempt to use charities to facilitate their “hostile environment” policy.

The Home Office has not revealed how many – if any – rough sleepers have now been deported.

The Town Hall said no referral was ever made to RSSS for any individual during the four months they were a member.

And that all support for rough sleepers is delivered “on the basis of consent”, while they would only consider working with the Home Office “where someone has asked us to do so and given their informed consent; for example to obtain settled status papers that they have lost”.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Nothing is more important to us than the welfare, safety and rights of every person rough sleeping we support. Neither Camden Council or Change Grow Live are members of the scheme and neither organisation will be providing personal data to the Home Office that could lead to the deportation of rough sleepers.”

London-based charity the Single Homeless Project, who ran some of the Covid-secure homeless facilities in Camden during the pandemic, had also registered with RSSS but immediately deregistered when approached by Liberty about concerns over the programme, saying it had used the RSSS “in good faith” but did not want to use “any scheme that puts [clients’] futures at risk”.

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