Access to Public Services for UK Migrants

public services


In the United Kingdom, a range of public services are provided to support residents, including healthcare, education, housing, and social services. These services are designed to ensure the well-being and integration of individuals within the community, regardless of their origin.

Understanding your rights as a migrant or visa holder is crucial to fully benefit from these public services. Different visa categories and immigration statuses can affect eligibility and access to these services, making it important to be well-informed about your rights and entitlements while in the UK.


Section A: Understanding Your Rights as a Migrant


Migrating to the United Kingdom may afford you certain rights and entitlements, depending on your immigration status and visa category.


1. Migrants’ Rights in the UK


General Rights of Migrants in the UK include:


a. Equality and Non-Discrimination: Migrants, regardless of their nationality or immigration status, are entitled to equal treatment under UK law. This includes protection from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors.


b. Access to Justice: Migrants have the right to access the UK’s legal system and seek redress for any grievances they may encounter. This includes the right to legal representation and fair treatment in legal proceedings.


c. Freedom of Movement: Depending on their immigration status, migrants may have varying degrees of freedom to live, work, and travel within the UK. Understanding the conditions of your visa is crucial to avoid breaching immigration laws.


d. Protection from Exploitation: Migrants are protected from exploitation and abuse in the workplace under UK employment laws. This includes the right to fair wages, safe working conditions, and protection from modern slavery and human trafficking.


2. Public Services Available to Foreign Nationals


Key services available to migrants in the UK include:


a. Healthcare: The National Health Service (NHS) provides comprehensive healthcare services, including general practitioner (GP) consultations, hospital treatments, and emergency care. Depending on your immigration status, you may have different levels of access to NHS services.


b. Education: Migrant children have the right to free education in public schools. Additionally, there are support services to help non-native English speakers integrate and succeed in the education system. Higher education opportunities are also available, though fees and eligibility can vary.


c. Housing: Access to housing services, including social housing and support for homelessness, is available to those who meet certain criteria. Understanding your rights as a tenant and the protections provided under UK law is essential.


d. Social Services: A variety of social services and benefits are available to support those in need, including financial assistance, childcare support, and disability services. Eligibility for these services often depends on immigration status and other factors.


3. Differences Between Various Visa Categories and Entitlements


Holders of work visas, such as the Skilled Worker visa, are typically permitted to work in the UK for a specific employer and occupation. They may also have access to certain public services, depending on the length and conditions of their stay.

Migrants on student visas have the right to study at accredited institutions in the UK. They may also be entitled to work part-time during their studies and full-time during holidays. Access to public services may vary depending on the duration of their course.

Individuals on family visas, including spouses, partners, and dependent children of British citizens or settled persons, may have access to a range of public services, including healthcare and education. However, eligibility criteria may apply.

Asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to protection under international and UK law. They have the right to seek asylum and access support services, including accommodation and financial assistance, while their claims are being processed.


4. Legal Resources and Support Services Available for Migrants


Migrants can seek guidance from immigration advisers, solicitors, and support organisations to understand their rights and the immigration system. Many organisations offer free or low-cost advice to migrants.

There are various community and advocacy groups that provide support to migrants, including those facing legal challenges, discrimination, or social exclusion. These groups offer a range of services, from practical assistance to advocacy and campaigning.

The UK government provides online resources and guidance for migrants, including information on visa requirements, rights and entitlements, and how to access public services. These resources can be accessed through government websites and helplines.


Section B: Healthcare Services for Migrants in the UK


Access to healthcare services in the United Kingdom is a fundamental right for all residents, including migrants. The National Health Service (NHS) provides comprehensive healthcare coverage, ranging from primary care to specialist treatments, allowing migrants to access the care they need and maintain their well-being while living in the country.


1. Eligibility for NHS Services


The NHS operates on a residency-based entitlement system, meaning that individuals who are “ordinarily resident” in the UK are entitled to access NHS services free of charge. This includes migrants with certain visa categories, such as those with indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or refugee status.

Visitors to the UK, including tourists and individuals on short-term visas, may be eligible for emergency treatment or essential healthcare services free of charge. However, non-residents may be charged for non-urgent treatments or services not covered by the NHS.

Asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to access NHS healthcare services free of charge, regardless of their immigration status. They are provided with an NHS number and can register with a GP like any other resident.


2. Registration with a GP and Access to Medical Treatments


Registering with a GP is the first step in accessing healthcare services in the UK. GPs provide primary care services, including consultations, prescriptions, and referrals to specialists or hospitals when necessary. Migrants can register with a GP practice near their place of residence.

Migrants in need of urgent medical attention can access emergency care services through NHS hospitals or walk-in centres. Emergency treatment is provided free of charge, regardless of immigration status.

Migrants may require specialist treatments or services for specific health conditions. Referrals to specialists are typically arranged through a GP, and treatment is provided through NHS hospitals or specialist clinics.


3. Costs Associated with Healthcare for Migrants


Some migrants applying for visas to live or work in the UK are required to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge as part of their visa application. This surcharge grants access to NHS services on the same basis as UK residents for the duration of their visa.

Non-residents and individuals not covered by the NHS may be charged for certain healthcare services, including hospital treatments, dental care, and prescription medications. The charges vary depending on the type of treatment and individual circumstances.

Certain groups, such as asylum seekers, refugees, and vulnerable individuals, may be exempt from healthcare charges or eligible for waivers. It’s important for migrants to inquire about their entitlements and seek assistance if they encounter difficulties accessing healthcare services due to financial constraints.


Section C: Education Services for Migrants in the UK


Access to education is a fundamental right for all children in the United Kingdom, including migrant children. The UK education system provides a range of support services to facilitate the integration and academic success of migrant students, from primary education to higher education.


1. Rights of Migrant Children to Access Free Education


Migrant children in the UK have the same rights as British citizens to access free education in state-funded schools from the age of five to sixteen. This includes primary and secondary education, regardless of immigration status.

Schools in the UK are prohibited from discriminating against students based on nationality or immigration status. Migrant children are entitled to equal treatment and opportunities for learning alongside their peers.

Schools must admit migrant children even if they do not have documentation proving their immigration status or residency.

Schools are encouraged to support families in obtaining the necessary documents and information to facilitate enrolment, but they cannot refuse to admit a child based solely on a lack of documentation proving immigration status or residency.


2. Support Services Available in Schools for Non-Native English Speakers


Schools with a significant population of non-native English speakers often provide specialised support through English as an Additional Language (EAL) programmes. These aim to improve students’ English language proficiency and facilitate their integration into mainstream classes.

Some schools may also offer additional support to migrant students to help them adjust to the UK education system and culture. This may include mentoring programs, cultural awareness workshops, and extracurricular activities promoting diversity and inclusion.

Migrant students with special educational needs or disabilities are entitled to additional support and accommodations to ensure they can fully participate in education. Schools work with parents and external agencies to develop individualised education plans (IEPs) for students with SEN.


3. Higher Education Opportunities and Tuition Fee Status


Migrant students who have completed secondary education in the UK may pursue higher education opportunities at universities and colleges. There are no restrictions on the eligibility of migrant students to apply for undergraduate or postgraduate courses based on nationality or immigration status.

The tuition fee status for migrant students in higher education depends on various factors, including residency, nationality, and immigration status. Generally, students who have been living in the UK for a certain period may qualify for home fee status, entitling them to pay lower tuition fees compared to international students.

Migrant students may be eligible for financial support, such as student loans, grants, and scholarships, to help cover the cost of tuition fees and living expenses while studying in the UK. Eligibility criteria for financial support vary depending on residency and immigration status.


Section D: Housing Services for Migrants in the UK


The UK government provides various housing services and support to help migrants secure accommodation and address homelessness. In particular, local authorities, housing associations and specialist organisations play an important role in providing guidance, assistance, and advocacy to help migrants access safe and suitable housing options.


1. Access to Social Housing and Homelessness Assistance


Social housing refers to housing provided by local authorities or housing associations at affordable rents to individuals and families in need. Migrants with certain immigration statuses, such as refugees or individuals with indefinite leave to remain (ILR), are eligible to apply for social housing on the same basis as UK citizens.

Migrants who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can seek assistance from local authorities under the Housing Act 1996. Local councils have a duty to provide advice, support, and temporary accommodation to homeless individuals and families, regardless of immigration status.


2. Eligibility Criteria and Application Process for Housing Support


Eligibility for housing support may vary depending on immigration status. Migrants with limited leave to remain or those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) may face restrictions on accessing certain housing services and financial assistance.

Local authorities may require individuals to demonstrate a “local connection” to the area in which they are seeking housing support. This can include factors such as employment, family ties, or previous residence in the area.

Migrants seeking housing support typically need to undergo an assessment by the local authority to determine their housing needs and eligibility for assistance. This may involve providing documentation, such as proof of identity, income, and immigration status.


3. Rights of Tenants and Protections Under UK Law


Tenants renting private or social housing in the UK have legal rights and responsibilities outlined in a tenancy agreement. This agreement sets out the terms of the tenancy, including rent payments, repairs, and the landlord’s obligations.

Tenants in the UK are protected from illegal eviction or harassment by landlords under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Landlords must follow legal procedures to evict tenants, such as obtaining a court order, and cannot evict tenants without proper notice.

Landlords are required to ensure that rental properties meet certain health and safety standards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Tenants have the right to request repairs and improvements to ensure their housing meets these standards.

In the event of disputes between tenants and landlords, tenants can seek assistance from local authorities, housing charities, or legal advisors. Mediation services may also be available to help resolve disagreements without resorting to legal action.


Section E: Social Services and Benefits for Migrants in the UK


The UK government provides a range of support schemes to assist individuals and families with various needs, including financial assistance, childcare, and disability support.


1. Overview of Social Services Available to Migrants


Migrants may be eligible for financial assistance through various benefits, such as Universal Credit, Income Support, or Housing Benefit. These benefits are designed to provide financial support to individuals and families on low incomes or facing financial hardship.

Migrant families with children may also be eligible for childcare support, such as the Childcare Grant or Tax-Free Childcare scheme, to help cover the costs of childcare while parents work or attend education or training.

Those with disabilities or long-term health conditions may be entitled to disability benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), to help meet additional costs associated with their disability.


2. Eligibility for Benefits and Support Schemes


Eligibility for social services and benefits may depend on residency status, immigration status, and length of time living in the UK. Some benefits are only available to individuals with settled status or those with indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

Many benefits have income-based eligibility criteria, meaning that individuals and families must meet certain income thresholds to qualify for support. Assets, savings, and other financial resources may also be taken into account when assessing eligibility.

Benefit entitlements may also vary depending on family composition, such as the number of children or dependents in the household. Certain benefits, such as Child Benefit or Housing Benefit, are tailored to support families with specific needs.


3. How to Apply for Financial Assistance and Other Supports


Many benefit applications can be completed online through the UK government’s official website or through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) online portal. Online applications typically require providing personal and financial information, as well as supporting documentation.

Migrants who require assistance with their benefit applications can contact the relevant government helplines or local Jobcentre Plus offices for support. Trained advisors can provide guidance on eligibility criteria, application procedures, and required documentation.

Some migrants may prefer to seek face-to-face assistance with their benefit applications. Local authority offices, Citizens Advice bureaus, and community organisations may offer support and guidance to individuals navigating the social welfare system.

In cases where benefit applications are denied or disputed, migrants have the right to appeal decisions through the DWP’s appeals process. Legal advice and representation may be available to migrants appealing benefit decisions.


Section F: Legal Support and Advice for Migrants in the UK


Various organisations and resources are available to provide legal assistance and guidance to migrants, ensuring they understand their rights and receive the support and representation they need.


1. Organisations Providing Legal Assistance to Migrants


A number of organisations offer specialist immigration legal advice to foreign nationals in the UK:


a. Legal Aid Agencies: Several legal aid agencies and charities specialise in providing free or low-cost legal assistance to migrants. These organisations offer advice, representation, and advocacy on immigration, asylum, and human rights issues. Examples include the Refugee Council, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).


b. Citizens Advice Bureaus (CABs): CABs provide general advice and support on a wide range of legal and social issues, including immigration and nationality matters. Trained advisors at CABs can help migrants understand their rights, access services, and navigate the legal system.


c. Pro Bono Legal Services: Some law firms and legal professionals offer pro bono (free) legal services to migrants in need. Pro bono initiatives may provide representation in immigration cases, assistance with applications and appeals, and legal advice on various immigration issues.


2. How to Find and Consult with Immigration Advisers


With professional advice, you can better understand your rights, obligations and options. Some legal aid agencies and community organisations host legal clinics or advice sessions where migrants can receive free consultations with immigration advisers. These sessions provide an opportunity to discuss specific immigration issues and receive personalised advice. You may also look to instruct an immigration solicitor. Many advisers offer initial consultations at no cost or at a reduced fee.

It can also be helpful to seek referrals and recommendations from trusted sources, such as community organisations, religious institutions, or friends and family members who have used legal services in the past, to help identify reputable legal advisers.

Many organisations providing legal assistance also offer online resources, including information guides, fact sheets, and FAQs, on their websites.


3. Importance of Understanding Immigration Laws and Regulations


Migrants are required to comply with immigration laws and regulations to maintain their legal status in the UK. Awareness of visa conditions, reporting requirements, and other legal obligations is crucial for avoiding immigration breaches and potential consequences, such as deportation or removal.

Knowledge of immigration laws can also help migrants make informed decisions about their immigration status, rights, and legal options while living in the UK, such as routes to remain in the UK on a longer-term or permanent basis. If you are aware of your rights, you can advocate for yourself and seek assistance from legal aid agencies, support organisations, and government agencies.


Section G: Summary


When settling into life in the UK, it’s important to seek out available resources and support services to help with your transition and integration. Whether accessing healthcare, finding housing, or navigating the immigration system, there are organisations, charities, and government agencies dedicated to assisting migrants and providing guidance. Staying informed about your rights and the services available to you will help you overcome challenges, access essential support, and build a successful life in the UK.


Section H: FAQs about Accessing Public Services as a Migrant in the UK


What public services am I entitled to as a migrant in the UK?
The specific entitlements vary depending on your immigration status and length of stay in the UK, but may include access to public services including healthcare, education, housing, and social services.


Can I access healthcare services through the National Health Service (NHS) as a migrant?
Migrants in the UK can access healthcare services through the NHS, regardless of immigration status. However, eligibility for free NHS treatment may vary depending on your immigration status and residency status in the UK. Some migrants may be required to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of their visa application to access NHS services.


How do I register with a GP (General Practitioner) and access medical treatments?
To access healthcare services through the NHS, you need to register with a local GP practice. You can find and register with a GP near your place of residence. Once registered, you can schedule appointments for medical consultations, treatments, and prescriptions as needed.


Am I eligible for social housing and homelessness assistance as a migrant?
Migrants in the UK may be eligible for social housing and homelessness assistance, depending on their immigration status and circumstances. Eligibility criteria vary, but migrants with settled status, refugee status, or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) are typically eligible to apply for social housing and receive support from local authorities.


What are my rights as a tenant renting accommodation in the UK?
As a tenant renting accommodation in the UK, you have legal rights and protections under UK law. These rights include the right to live in a safe and habitable property, protection from illegal eviction or harassment by landlords, and the right to request repairs and improvements to the property.


Section I: Glossary


Immigration Status: The legal category that defines a person’s permission to reside and work in a country, often determined by visa type or residency status.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Permission granted to non-EEA nationals to live and work in the UK without any time restrictions.

National Health Service (NHS): The publicly funded healthcare system in the United Kingdom providing comprehensive medical services to residents.

General Practitioner (GP): A primary care doctor who provides basic medical services, including diagnoses, treatment, and referrals to specialists.

Social Housing: Housing provided by local authorities or housing associations at affordable rents to individuals and families in need.

Refugee Status: Legal recognition granted to individuals who have fled their home country due to persecution, war, or violence and have been granted asylum in another country.

Disability Benefits: Financial support provided to individuals with disabilities to help cover additional costs related to their disability.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): An organisation offering free advice on legal, financial, and social issues to residents, including migrants.

Legal Aid: Government funding or support provided to individuals who cannot afford legal representation, often for matters relating to immigration, housing, or welfare.

Visa Category: A specific immigration status granted to individuals for purposes such as work, study, family reunification, or tourism, each with its own rights and restrictions.


Section J: Additional Resources


UK Government – Immigration and Visas


NHS – Health Services for Refugees and Asylum Seekers


GOV.UK – Housing and Local Services


Refugee Council


Citizens Advice


Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)


Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)


Housing Rights


UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs)




Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

Contact DavidsonMorris
Get in touch with DavidsonMorris for general enquiries, feedback and requests for information.
Sign up to our award winning newsletters!
Find us on: