This briefing paper explains measures taken by the Government during the coronavirus outbreak to assist households to retain their homes and enable local authorities to tackle the specific challenges faced by rough sleepers. The paper covers lifting of the ban on evictions from 20 September In England and Wales and the introduction of extended notice periods. The paper is being updated regularly to take account of new developments.
The transition from asylum seeker status
Securing housing for asylum seekers in the UK is the responsibility of the Home Office. Once granted leave to remain, refugees are expected to find their own accommodation within 28 days. As a rule, refugees fall into a class of persons subject to immigration control who are eligibile for housing assistance:
…a person whose refugee status has been recognised by the Secretary of State and who has leave to enter and remain in the UK. Persons granted refugee status are usually granted 5 years’ limited leave to remain in the UK. (Prior to 30 August 2005, it was the policy to provide immediate settlement (indefinite leave to remain) for persons granted refugee status).
Individuals leaving Home Office accommodation may not have sufficient funds to secure private rented housing without additional help. Because asylum seekers are not permitted to work, saving for a deposit may act as a barrier. Processing benefit applications can take longer than 28 days. Furthermore, it can take time to receive a National Insurance number – this can delay entry to the workforce. These factors can put refugees at risk of homelessness.
The Department for Work and Pensions has published a guide for refugees: Help available from the Department for Work and Pensions for people who have been granted leave to remain in the UK.
The Government has attempted to speed up the process of moving refugees to mainstream support systems, including:
- The national rollout of the Post Grant Appointment Service from October 2017 which is aimed at speeding up access to benefits by arranging an appointment with a Jobcentre.
- The introduction of Refugee integration loans – a loan to help refugees with upfront payments like rent deposits. However, it is reported that these loans are not always sufficient and can be issued outside of the 28-day ‘move-on’ period.
- The appointment of Asylum Support Liaison Officers across the UK, whose roles will involve helping refugees to access housing.
The UK Government does not have a refugee integration strategy. As refugee integration is a devolved matter, the Welsh Government has published a delivery plan, and Scottish Government has published a strategy for 2018-22.
Statistics on homeless refugees
In London, the Combined Homelessness Information (CHAIN) records information on rough sleepers encountered by outreach workers across different agencies. Annual reports are published on the Greater London Authority website.
The 2017/18 annual report records 66 people sleeping rough across the year who said their last settled accommodation was asylum support accommodation, compared to 74 in 2016/17. Prior to this the number had been rising year-on-year: there were 10 people in this situation in 2014/15 and 34 in 2015/16.
The homelessness charity Crisis published Everybody in: how to end homelessness in Great Britain (2018), which includes analysis of the scale of homelessness amongst refugees (pp340-342). They report that 478 of their new clients in 2016/17 approached them because they had nowhere to live after leaving asylum accommodation. This is an increase from 316 the year before.
Across the UK, providing assistance to homeless people is a local authority responsibility, aside from in Northern Ireland where the Northern Ireland Housing Executive exercises this duty. For further information, there are Library papers on Statutory homelessness in England and a Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Refugee Council has published Making homelessness applications for refugees in England (February 2018).
Aside from Scotland, where the priority need categories have been abolished, the duty to secure accommodation for homeless people depends on whether they are considered to be in priority need (e.g. have dependant children) and whether they are unintentionally homeless. Refugees may fall into a priority need category but this will depend on their individual circumstances – there is no requirement to treat all homeless refugees as in a priority need category.
Extended homeless prevention and relief duties
The Governments in Wales and England have extended the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants (i.e. irrespective of priority need status). For example, in England, since
3 April 2018 authorities must:
- Work to prevent homelessness if an applicant is expected to be homeless within 56 days or less.
- Work to relieve homelessness if an applicant is homeless. Local authorities have a duty to relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants over a period of 56 days, during which time the authority should take reasonable steps to help them find suitable accommodation for a minimum period of six months. There is no duty on authorities to actually provide the accommodation.
Refugees with leave to remain can benefit from the prevention and relief duties. However, for the reasons set out above, the 28-day ‘move on’ period can prove challenging when organising assistance to secure housing. The No Accommodation Network (NACCOM) argues that the 28-day notice might “limit […] the quality of support that can be offered because of the short timeframe”, particularly as asylum seekers often do not know when their application will be approved.
There were attempts to extend the move-on period during the passage of the Immigration Bill 2015-16 through Parliament. The Government resisted the amendments. Refugees Welcome: the Experience of New Refugees in the UK, (pp23-4) provides more information.
A new duty to refer
In addition to extended prevention and relief duties, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (England) places a new duty on certain specified public bodies to notify local housing authorities if they believe someone is at risk of homelessness (the person’s consent is required). This duty will come into force in October 2018. The public bodies subject to this duty in England are listed in regulation 10 to the Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018 and includes; for example, prisons and jobcentres but not providers of accommodation for asylum seekers. This is regarded as an oversight by Crisis, the Refugee Council, NACCOM and Asylum Matters.
Several recent reports analyse the support offered to those who have been granted refugee status.
Mind the Gap: Homelessness Amongst Newly Recognised Refugees, NACCOM, May 2018
- Recommendations inlcude:
- Extending the move-on period to 56 days so that refugees can benefit from the extension of authorities’ duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and to give more time to apply for benefits.
- Improving advice given to refugees about their housing options and their rights.
- Introducing a duty to refer for asylum accommodation providers (see above).
- Local housing authorities should consult with and perhaps commission specialist services for refugees.
- Integration Loan amounts should be adjusted to reflect the needs of the housing market and these loans should be better advertised.
- Changes to specialist supported housing should bear in mind the needs of refugees, who should be eligible for this housing.
OUT IN THE COLD: Homelessness among destitute refugees in London, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), January 2018
The JRS works with “refugees who have been detained or made destitute by the asylum process.” This report is based on a survey of those who attended the JRS UK Day Centre in East London on two consecutive Thursdays. The JRS received 135 responses. As well as noting that nearly all those surveyed were homeless according to the law in England and Wales, the authors found:
- 62% experienced street homeless in the last year
- 36% feel physically unsafe in their accommodation
- 47% have no regular place to sleep
- 87% do not feel in control of their accommodation
- 42% feel uncomfortable with those they live with
The authors suggest that the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy is causing ‘destitution’ in the UK amongst refugees. Destitute’ refugees caught in cycle of homelessness, say Jesuit Refugee Service provides a synopsis of the report [Church Times, 26 January 2018]. The JRS also published a summary of its findings.
Refugees Welcome: the Experience of New Refugees in the UK, All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, 2017
The authors write:
The evidence we received shows that a two-tier system has developed for refugees. Refugees in the UK will either have gone through the asylum process having arrived in the UK and then submitted an application, or they will have been brought to the UK directly from another country through one of the Government-led resettlement schemes.
Those refugees who arrive through a resettlement route are provided with accommodation and receive support to access services and find employment. For refugees who have gone through the asylum system, there is no such support. This was not always the case. Between 2008 and 2011, the Government funded a programme to help newly recognised refugees navigate the move on period, offering 12 months of support to access housing, education, social security and the job market. However, funding for the programme – known as the Refugee Integration and Employment Service – was ended in September 2011. Since then, there has been no Government provided support service for refugees who have been through the asylum system.
The recommendations include calls for a new ‘National Refugee Integration Strategy’ across the UK which would be overseen by a Minister for Refugees. The specific recommendations include:
- Extending the ‘move-on’ period to at least 50 days.
- Reintroducing a support system along the lines of the Refugee Integration and Employment Service.
- National Insurance number applications should be made on behalf all eligible refugees not just the ‘principle applicant’.
- Reduce restrictions on the asylum seekers’ right to work
- Fast-track Integration loans to be used for rental deposits. Maximum amounts offered should be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to cover deposits.
Recommendations are also made about Jobcentre workers and advice, training and benefits.
Refugees without refuge, Refugee Council, September 2017
A survey was conducted of 54 people who had used the Refugee Council’s services in approximately a year-long period. Its key findings were:
- The majority (32) of respondents received their Biometric Residence Permit within two weeks of being granted refugee status. However, 13 people waited for six weeks or more to receive this vital piece of identification which can prevent newly recognised refugees from being able to access services and accommodation.
- 12 people who had been receiving asylum support waited more than four weeks for their National Insurance number.
- Only one person had a job at the end of the 28-day move-on period.
- 27 people reported difficulties in opening a bank account.
- Most of these newly recognised refugees were forced to rely on charities, friends and family, and foodbanks once their asylum support payments were terminated as Home Office support dropped away and employment had not been secured.
- None of the people who were living in asylum support accommodation had managed to find secure accommodation by the time they were evicted at the end of the move on period.
- Of the 54 respondents to the survey, more than half (31) slept rough or in a hostel or night shelter in the period after they were granted refugee status.
- 30 people reported feeling uncomfortable about relying on others for food, money or accommodation, and 12 said they felt unsafe.
- Many respondents reported negative feelings after being granted refugee status and one reported multiple suicide attempts.
- Participants reported high levels of loneliness and isolation.
PQs have probed Government action in the light of research finding set out above and support to prevent refugees from becoming homeless:
Written PQ HL8774 [Refugees: Homelessness] 03 Jul 2018
Written PQ 153848 [Homelessness: Refugees] 20 Jun 2018
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