New refugees face homelessness and destitution

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07 May 2014

Newly granted refugees are facing homelessness and destitution due to administrative delays and errors, the Refugee Council warns.

Our new research published today has uncovered evidence of refugees being forced to sleep rough and beg for money or, if they’re lucky, rely on the generosity of charities and friends for food and shelter.

The report, 28 Days Later: the experiences of new refugees in the UK, examines the transition period between when someone is granted refugee status and their Asylum Support ends. Current Home Office policy is that those who are in receipt of Asylum Support cease to be entitled to accommodation and cash support 28 days after their notification of being granted refugee status.

This represents a rapid change in circumstances for people who may not have been in the UK for very long, are unfamiliar with the systems, may not speak good English and will not have had access to employment and savings.

Under the current system, refugees must quickly obtain housing and a means to support and feed themselves and their families but face multiples barriers to doing so with people often waiting for months to be issued the correct documentation to enable them to claim mainstream benefits, find employment and support themselves.

Refugees are left at particular risk of homelessness as they are often not classed as ‘priority need’ for housing by local authorities and will usually lack the savings necessary to access the private rental sector.

Refugees interviewed for the research described the period as “confusing and chaotic”.  

The report highlights the difficulties faced by refugees trying to prove their identity, residency and eligibility for access to public services. The Refugee Council fears this will be exacerbated under the new Immigration Bill as identity checks are strengthened and extended.

Report author, Refugee Council Advocacy Manager Dr Lisa Doyle said: "Refugees have fled horrifying experiences in their own countries and have lost everything. When they arrive in the UK, many are met by a complex, hostile asylum system which can leave people living in limbo for years, waiting to have a final decision on their fate.

"Being finally recognised as a refugee should be a moment to be celebrated. It is unacceptable that the reverse is true and that it is a confusing, chaotic period where people can find themselves on the street, begging for money.

"It seems perverse that when someone is accepted as in need of protection the state puts them at further risk through bureaucratic failures that can make them homeless and destitute.

"The Home Office must urgently review the current system to ensure that vulnerable refugees are not left unsupported.”

Ivo, a refugee from Cameroon, waited months to receive his National Insurance Number after being granted refugee status, due to a series errors made by the Home Office. Unable to work because of a serious medical condition resulting from his traumatic experiences in his home country, Ivo struggled to access the benefits he was entitled to. When his asylum support ended, he became homeless.

Ivo was helped into an emergency hostel by the Refugee Council before being assisted to secure a room in private rented accommodation. He is now studying Health and Social care at college and hopes to become a nurse or social worker in the future.

Ivo said: "I felt relieved when I got my refugee status but in reality it was just the beginning of a whole new set of problems. Accessing housing and other services has been very stressful. The Government should do more to help refugees integrate so other people don’t have to go what I went through. I was a refugee with no refuge.”

The Refugee Council is calling on the Government to issue refugees with their appropriate documentation without delay and to ensure that refugees are fully supported to access the benefits and services they are entitled to.

Read the full report.