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Challenging UKBA

September 08 2010
The Home Office scheme to deport Eastern European rough sleepers may be illegal

A scheme being used by the Home Office to deport Eastern Europeans (A10) found sleeping rough could be illegal under EU law, lawyers and human rights groups have argued.

The scheme - introduced on a pilot basis by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) earlier this year - has so far been deployed in Westminster, Oxford and Peterborough. As previously reported by The Pavement, those targeted are individuals from A10 countries and have been in the UK for longer than three months, but are not, and "have no prospect" of, working or studying. One month into the scheme, more than 200 people had been considered under the pilot, roughly 100 had been served with removal notices and 13 people ejected.

But legal groups claim it could result in the UK being taken to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission, for being illegal under EU law.

"While these expulsions have a basis in domestic law, EU law is supreme in this area and any domestic law provision must comply with EU law," Adam Weiss, assistant director of The Aire (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe) Centre said. "EU law makes it very difficult to justify expelling an EU national on the basis that that person is not exercising residence rights, which is what the authorities are trying to do," he adds. "We anticipate that the higher courts will find all, or virtually all of these expulsions unlawful under EU law."

Weiss also warned the handling of the scheme could raise questions about the way central and eastern Europeans are prevented from accessing benefits.

Sue Willman, a partner at Pierce Glynn Solicitors, which specialises in human rights and discrimination law, agreed. "A lot of people are self-sufficient, even if they are getting by sleeping rough," she said. " If they are not claiming benefits, they are not making any demand on the UK public funds - although some may well have entitlements."

The number of rough sleepers originally from A10 countries has risen dramatically since the start of the financial crisis, and estimates for London now put the number at nearly 40 per cent of all homeless people as coming from those countries.

It is still early days for the pilot, which is due to continue for another four months before the Home Office considers whether to deploy it more widely.

A UKBA spokesman says that the scheme was "just one element of an overall plan to tackle rough sleeping and destitution". He added: "We are trialling this new approach in a number of areas where rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour are particular challenges and will carry out a full evaluation of its success before making any decisions."

He claims that the UKBA would only take removal action in cases where "the individual consistently refuses [support to leave voluntarily] and is left destitute and a problem for their community".