Paul Heron, solicitor, Public Interest Law Unit (personal capacity)
For the past year and a half the Tory government has been waging a war against European Economic Area (EEA) nationals, including locking up those citizens en masse, without charge and indefinitely. Not in the mainstream news? Of course not, those affected were largely from eastern Europe and were homeless.
I became involved in these cases after campaigners and those directly affected contacted me. What became clear is that civil liberties and human rights were thrown out of the window. To make matters worse, a scheme designed by the Home Office to sweep up homeless people was aided by leading homelessness charities.
The Home Office policy designated those European nationals sleeping rough as breaking the law – or rather by sleeping rough they were breaking European laws on the right of workers to free movement.
For the Home Office and their new policy that provided a green light to confiscate the documents of EEA nationals sleeping rough – demanding that they leave the UK within 28 days. In addition, it allowed the arrest and the detention of those who were homeless pending removal from the UK.
The Home Office argued it was necessary in order to target migrants who came to the UK ‘with the intention of sleeping rough.’
In the run up to the legal challenge in the High Court I visited dozens of people trapped in detention centres across the UK. Many of those visited, prior to being detained, had full-time jobs, or had been working for years, been caught in a perfect storm of illness and austerity, leading to them losing their jobs.
In one case, a client who was between accommodation, sleeping in a van, and waiting for his wages that week to put a deposit down on a room in a flat, was detained for seven months.
Needless to say after we obtained an interim injunction, he was released with no money and found that he had lost his job. He had been in the UK for three years, and been working for that whole time!
High Court victory
The case I brought was a test case involving three people. Two from Poland, one from Latvia. The High Court found in our favour. It ruled that the Home Office policy was unlawful, that the policy was discriminatory and that they were guilty of ‘systematic verification’ – in effect the government was guilty of orchestrating sweeps of homeless people without distinction.
That decision, on 14 December was a victory against the Home Office policy, but most significantly a policy developed when Theresa May was the home secretary.
As a socialist lawyer it feels like a constant battle for peoples’ rights, and a battle against draconian laws.
For workers who become homeless it is an absolute disaster on many levels. No one should be criminalised for a problem that has been created and conceived by this government.
Freedom of movement should not be a preserve of the rich, and neither should a home!