Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

Grave concerns about leadership of homelessness agencies

Deportations

 

Unite housing workers welcome reports that some Labour councils are refusing to share sensitive personal data of rough sleepers with the Home Office.  We have raised grave questions about the leadership of homelessness charities who have appeared keen to collaborate with the Home Office despite legal and ethical issues and have pointed to the need to win contracts.

 

Dodging the law

 

Earlier this month The Observer revealed that the Home Office has drawn up a new secret programme using homelessness charities to acquire personal information that could result in deportation. This appears to be a plan to revive aspects of the ‘hostile environment’ approach by dodging the law.

 

A previous plan to deport EU rough sleepers was defeated eighteen months ago when the high court deemed it unlawful and discriminatory.  Unite repeatedly warned St Mungos senior management that their collaboration was unethical, damaged the ability of the service to help ‘hard to reach’ groups by undermining confidence in services, exposed their staff to additional health and safety risks and were also likely to prove to be unlawful.  The Observer report makes it shockingly clear that a new clandestine programme ignores European privacy laws by passing rough sleepers’ sensitive personal information directly to the Home Office without their consent.

 

Discriminatory policy

 

A spokesman for the Public Interest Law Centre, which won the high court case, said: “It’s now clear the Home Office – with the Greater London Authority, local councils and some homelessness charities – is trying to resurrect this discriminatory policy under a different guise.”

 

It is notable that there has been a degree of opposition from charities including St Mungo’s and the migrant’s advocacy group Praxis, who warn of “reputational risks” for groups linked to the scheme.

 

Contracts

 

At least one of the council’s refusing information sharing, Haringey, has called on homeless charities that hold contracts with the borough to follow the same principle of refusing to cooperate with the Home Office enforcement team, even when working in other geographic areas. 

 

“This is about privacy, this is about data protection and it is about human rights. How you behave as service provider in a situation where people are at their most vulnerable is important"

 

Emine Ibrahim, cabinet member for housing and estate renewal said: “This is about privacy, this is about data protection and it is about human rights. How you behave as service provider in a situation where people are at their most vulnerable is important. Our primary focus is to help people safely exit the streets. We know the risks that are involved with rough sleeping and we want to make sure we have plans in place to ensure that, whatever people do, there is choice and consent is involved.”

 

Commitment

 

We welcome this call. All councils should insist that service providers make this commitment; it should be no problem for senior managers with any ethical compass. It would be particularly valuable for the strategically important greater London authority to make this call.

 

Front line workers choose to work in the sector out of a commitment to make a difference and have felt betrayed by executives of homelessness agencies who appear more focussed on winning contracts than providing good services for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

 

22 July 2019

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