There has been much media coverage about the hostile environment and the repercussions of being in the UK without evidence of a right to remain. Katherine Houlston, AFF F&C Specialist, tells us what this means for spouses and children in the UK who have no valid visa…

What is the hostile environment?
It’s a package of measures designed to remove incentives and to encourage those who are in the country unlawfully to regularise their stay or leave the UK. It includes measures to limit access to work, housing, healthcare, education, bank accounts and the ability to drive.

Does it apply to families of soldiers?
Yes, there’s no exemption from the requirement to have valid leave to remain in the UK. We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from Army families who have been suspended from work, have received an NHS bill or find that their children cannot attend university. For spouses, it can also prevent them from accompanying their soldier on an overseas assignment.

Access to employment
If an Army family member makes an application to remain in the UK before their visa expires, then they can continue to work in the UK because they have made an ‘in-time’ application. Their employer can use the ‘employee checking service’ to confirm their eligibility to work, available at

If, however, they make an application after their visa expires, then they are no longer able to continue working. It’s a criminal offence to employ someone who does not have permission to work and an employer could face fines of up to £20,000.

Access to healthcare
Although family members of HM Forces are exempt from the health surcharge, access to the NHS is still dependent on being lawfully present in the UK.

Access to bank accounts
The Secretary of State has the power to either freeze or close the account of someone who is illegally in the UK even if there is money in it. It’s also not possible to open an account if you do not have valid leave.

Access to university
Attending university as a home student and being eligible for student finance requires the applicant to have both indefinite leave to remain and to have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for the past three years. Ordinary residence includes being legally resident. Children and spouses who have no valid visas cannot attend university and unfortunately, even if they subsequently manage to regularise their status and obtain ILR, they’re still not eligible until they have been legally resident for three years.

Case studies
PAULINA had a valid visa until July 2017, but it expired and an application to extend was not made until September 2017.

As it was an out-of-time application, she was considered to be illegally in the UK.

In January this year, she was admitted to hospital for two days and presented with a bill of nearly £7,000 because she had no evidence of her right to remain.

Luckily, we were able to explain to the hospital that because the soldier’s wife is a primary carer of British children, she has a “derivative right” to remain in the UK under EU law and is therefore lawfully resident and the bill was cancelled.

A MOTHER – and military veteran – contacted us for assistance with her children’s visas, which expired in 2017. Her daughter, aged 20, had had her bank account frozen and was living with a distant relative after being asked to leave the local authority housing that she was sharing with her.

It transpired that the children had been granted the wrong visa on posting from Germany to the UK. AFF got the visa corrected to indefinite leave and the children can now move on with their lives.

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