According to the government’s own impact assessment of the amendments to the EEA and Habitual Residence Regulations 2012, there are fewer than 700 Zambrano carers that applied to the Home Office for residence last year. Within this class is a smaller group of Zambrano carer who, as a result of the judgment in Pryce v London Borough of Lambeth, qualified for homelessness assistance. As long as the application to the local authority housing department was made before the regulations came into force on 8 November 2012, then the duty was owed. Several clients at Birmingham Law Centre have now been offered Part VII tenancies. Of course this then begs the question of how these tenancies can possibly be sustained without access to Housing Benefit and it has left many of us with the difficulty of how best to advise our clients.
M has been a client since late last year when we successfully assisted her with a review of the decision to refuse her homelessness assistance. Tragically widowed when her son was a few months old, she had spent more than three months in emergency Bed and Breakfast accommodation before signing a tenancy agreement on a flat in Birmingham. Although clearly ecstatic to be leaving the Hotel she had been staying in, M came to see us scared and anxious as to how she would be able to move in to and maintain her new tenancy.
We have assisted M with an appeal of the decision to refuse Housing Benefit but it will clearly not be available to her in the short term as the government continues to resist access to benefits for Zambrano carers. In the mean time, we made an application to Birmingham City Council Children’s Services for assistance with the rent pending the Housing Benefit appeal. Yesterday, Birmingham agreed to use section 17 Children Act 1989 payments to meet M’s rent obligation. At the same time, we asked Birmingham to provide funds for essential furniture and they are now in the process of helping her find furniture and other essential items before moving in.
It hasn’t escaped our or Birmingham’s notice that both of these expenses would ordinarily have been picked up by central government through the statutory Housing Benefit scheme and the discretionary social fund. Instead, it is being left to local authorities to pick up the bill for M and Zambrano carers like her through the Children Act duty.
The courts continue to grapple with the meaning of Zambrano as the government resists its full implementation. Like other Zambrano carers we know at Birmingham Law Centre, M wants to work but is hamstrung by the prospect of not being able to earn the kind of salary that will cover her rent and living expenses without financial support from the state: the kind of support available to other low income families. How long will the government be able to sustain the argument that Zambrano confers a right to reside and a right to work but no right to benefits?