Lewisham and Southwark councils have said they will defy new immigration rules that make rough sleeping a legal ground to cancel or refuse permission to stay in Britain.  

The new rules, which charities and councils have labelled “cruel” and “inhumane”, came into force on December 1. 

The Home Office can now deport non-UK citizens who have a legal right to stay in the UK if they end up sleeping on the street.  

It argues the number of people affected will be a “small minority of EEA (European Economic Area) migrant rough sleepers who continue to refuse Government and local authority support and repeatedly engage in persistent antisocial behaviour”. 

A spokesperson said it “would be a last-resort measure” and “initially individuals would be asked to leave voluntarily with Government support”.  

Those who have successfully applied to continue living in the UK under the EU settlement scheme will not be affected, they said.  

But Lewisham and Southwark are among a number of councils who have said they will not collaborate with the Government’s new rules, branding them “deeply immoral”. 

They say the changes will deter rough sleepers from asking for support, and that they come in amid the coronavirus pandemic, when many people have lost their jobs, and as the cold weather sets in.  

The Good Law Project is also bringing a legal challenge against the decision.  

In a joint statement, Cllr Paul Bell, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing and planning and Cllr Kevin Bonavia, cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability slammed the move as a “cruel attack on the most vulnerable in our society”.  

“As we enter into the coldest months of the year, these new rules risk deterring rough sleepers from seeking the help they need and threaten to put lives at risk. 

“Lewisham Council will not collaborate with the Home Office in enforcing these draconian measures. 

“As a council, we are committed to ending rough sleeping in Lewisham and ensuring we are an open, welcoming and inclusive borough.  

“We believe these changes are discriminatory and undermine our efforts to tackle rough sleeping. 

“We will continue to support the Greater London Authority in lobbying the government to immediately reverse these changes,” they said.  

Cllr Helen Dennis, Southwark’s cabinet member for social support and homelessness, said it is “cruel, inhumane, and morally wrong to deport someone simply for falling on difficult times”. 

“Imagine you’ve lost your job due to Covid. You’ve got into arrears and been illegally evicted. You need support not another threat,” she said.