Councils demand urgent review on Section 9 legislation - Refugee Council
August 30, 2005

Councils demand urgent review on Section 9 legislation

As families begin to suffer under the government’s new section 9 of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act, 10 councils in the pilot scheme in Greater Manchester and in Lancashire are demanding an urgent review, a move backed also by councils in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Section 9 legislation deprives failed asylum seekers of benefits which can potentially lead them into destitution and homelessness with their children taken into care. Until now, parents with children under 18 were still entitled to state support until they were deported. The ‘loss of benefits’ is being piloted in the North and London before ministers decide whether to implement the scheme nationwide.

Some councils have complained that they are being made to do the Home Office’s dirty work. Section 9 conflicts with one of the fundamental principles of the Children Act which councils must follow, that of where possible keeping children with their parents. In addition, taking children into care is a more costly option than leaving a family in a council house, even if they cannot pay the rent.

Refugee agencies and support groups have condemned the policy as ‘blackmail’ saying it puts families under tremendous stress as they face the choice between destitution and returning to a country where they fear for their safety.

The Khanali family who were due to be evicted from their home in Bury, Greater Manchester last Friday were given a last minute reprieve when Bury Council refused to evict them. Councillor Tim Chamberlain told the Bury Times local newspaper, “We are in a cleft stick. If we act to do what the immigration authorities want, we would be in breach of our duty under the Children Act. We don’t feel that we are the right people to throw them out. The Home Office has washed its hands of the problem and passed it on to us.”

He said that newspaper headlines suggesting that Bury Council is refusing to do the Government’s dirty work for it was “a fair representation of how we feel. The case has caused us real difficulties. A functioning family with a supportive background is the best place for children to be. Taking them into care is the very last resort.”

However, there will be no direct financial support for the Khanalis, so voluntary groups are being asked to help provide food parcels and subsistence.

In a similar situation, Bolton Council have chosen not to evict a family with six children, five of them under 18. The Sukula family had lost benefits having failed to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are currently living on cash given by charities and supporters. A spokeswoman for Bolton Council told the Guardian “We are seeking to keep the family together in their home, pending legal clarifications.”

Refugee Action have been supporting another failed asylum seeker and her child, following their becoming the first family to be evicted from their home under the new pilot scheme. Vanda Da Graca fled Angola because she feared she would be executed after being arrested for being a member of the liberation movement, FLEC. However, British immigration officials do not believe she had been a member of FLEC and have said that they will force her to return to Angola.