Changes to Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to Covid-19 - Refugee Council
news  |  April 2, 2020

Changes to Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to Covid-19

We’ve been calling on the government to protect people seeking asylum and refugees at risk due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.  We are particularly concerned for people who are unable to access accommodation or support, those on limited support and those in shared accommodation who may be unable to self-isolate.

This page provides a summary of the government’s response to date,  noting key temporary changes to asylum and resettlement policy and practice.  Information will be updated on a daily basis.  Last updated at 16:00 on 2nd April 2020

Click on each headline below to see more detail.

The Home Office have cancelled some screening interviews and are working on a new system for asylum claims to be registered without the need to physically attend the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon.  Further details on the new system will be posted here once they become available.

The Home Office have updated the information on the government website to confirm that they have temporarily suspended reporting requirements.  The Home Office are sending individuals an SMS to confirm this.  Further details can be found here.

The Home Office have paused substantive asylum interviews and are currently exploring alternative ways to conduct these going forward (possibly by increasing the use of video link).   Further details will be posted here once they are made available.

On 27th March 2020, the Home Office Minister Chris Philp sent a Letter to the British Red Cross announcing that for the next three months people will not be asked to leave their asylum accommodation.   This applies to both people whose asylum cases are refused and those who are granted  status.  In the letter, the Minister sets out that this will reviewed towards the end of June.

The Red Cross also received clarification that the halt on evictions applies to people on section 95 support and section 4 support. Anyone on section 95 support whose asylum claim and any appeal were refused will be transferred to section 4 support and will continue receiving financial support. 

In a separate letter sent to Local Authorities the Home Office announced that as a result of the halt in evictions, accommodation providers have been instructed to procure additional properties (even in areas where the Local Authority had not previously agreed to become a dispersal area).

On 30th March the Home Office informed ILPA that they have put in place a process to enable asylum decisions to be served by email.  The Home Office have set up a process whereby they will send an email to the legal representative (using the most recent email address they have on file) to verify the following:

  • that the email address  is correct
  • that the representative is happy to receive emails
  • that the authority to act is current
  • that there are no reasons why serving the decision by email would not be appropriate

Once the above have been verified by the legal advisor, any decision on the case will be able to be served via email.  The Home Office will keep this new system under review.

Further information can be found on the ILPA website here.

From 25th March, no face-to-face appeal hearings will be listed at the First-tier Tribunal (the court where most asylum and immigration appeals are be heard).

Until at least 30th April, judges will conduct Case Management Review (CMR) Hearings by telephone to decide if the case can be decided on the papers (without a hearing). If a full hearing needs to go ahead, this will be done by video.

Further information on the process can be found on the ILPA website here.

The Upper Tribunal have cancelled almost all listed hearings including Judicial Reviews.

The Home Office have confirmed that they have suspended the requirement to attend the Further Submissions Unit in Liverpool in order to lodge a further submission.

It is now possible to send further submissions by post or email

Postal address:
Further Submissions Unit
The Capital Building
Old Hall Street
Liverpool
L3 9PP

E-mail address: CSUCE@homeoffice.gov.uk

On the 1st April 2020, the Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) provided the following update:

  • Asylum support appeals continue to happen at the Tribunal and are currently being listed up until Friday 17th April and beyond.
  • All appeals for w/c 6th April will be heard on the papers, although this is subject to short notice change and some may be listed for an oral (phone) hearing at a later date.
  • The Tribunal is making sure that no party to the appeal is prejudiced by a hearing happening on the papers, including sending out additional requests for evidence if necessary, with an extended deadline for evidence submissions.
  • The Tribunal is aiming to have a teleconferencing system in place to enable phone appeals as soon as possible.
  • ASAP is able to help appellants remotely, including looking through the papers for the case and talking directly to advisors and clients about pre-appeal prep. We are also submitting written representations in paper cases where appropriate

Please do continue to refer to ASAP through referrals@asaproject.org.uk

ASAP have also produced a detailed Factsheet on Covid-19 and asylum support, which is available here.

The Home Office have confirmed that their Assisted Voluntary Returns Service has been put on hold due to operational and logistical challenges.   They will continue to register an interest from people who wish to return, and seek to offer other forms of support to people wanting to return to their country of origin.

In response to a legal challenge by Detention Action, the Home Office released 350 people held under immigration powers. The number of people held in immigration detention has reduced dramatically, by nearly 500 people, from 1,225 on 1 January to 736 on 24 March.

In addition, the Home Office has committed to urgently review the cases of every person held in immigration detention. The Home Office has also halted the new detentions of persons liable to administrative removal to 49 countries, including Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Albania.

The Home Office has also introduced a series of protective measures for detainees including:

• Enhanced screening, identification and monitoring of those at risk or showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly for this with underlying health conditions.
• Ensuring that persons at increased risk from Covid-19, and persons who are symptomatic, are provided with facilities to self-isolate in single-occupancy rooms and are provided with individualised care plans
• A review of cleaning practices within detention centres to ensure compliance with Public Health England guidance
• Provision of anti-bacterial cleaning materials to detainees, upon request
• The introduction of social spacing measures in communal areas
• The production of specific guidance to explain in clear terms how to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19

The Home Office are currently unable to process any statelessness applications or make any decisions on Stateless Leave applications due to capacity issues.  Statelessness interviews have also been suspended.

Online applications can still be made and the Home Office will seek to resume this work as soon as they are able to do so.

The Statelessness Determination Team Inbox is still being monitored and is able to receive enquiries. 

The UNHCR has temporarily suspended resettlement travel for refugees.  UNHCR will continue to work in refugee-hosting countries to ensure that the processing of resettlement cases continues.   The suspension of travel is a temporary measure and they hope to resume full resettlement travel as soon as logistics permit.

Further to the announcement by UNHCR the Home Office then confirmed that resettlement arrivals to the UK will be postponed until 20th April.  The Home Office will ontinue to keep the situation under review and hope to resume arrivals as soon as they are able to do so.

The Home Office have produced a detailed FAQ document in response to questions put forward by stakeholders.

The Home Office have informed us that they have limited capacity to process travel document applications due to Covid-19.

They advise that anyone who is in particularly difficult situation and needs their application to be considered as a matter of priority, should send a request, along with scanned recent, acceptable evidence of the circumstances and confirmation that the client is able to travel i.e. confirmation from the airline or ferry company  to traveldocumentenquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk

If the Home Office agree that the case meets the criteria for being expedited and an application has not yet been submitted online, then the applicant will need to complete an online application.  If an application has already been submitted then the applicant should not apply again as this is likely to cause confusion and may delay their application.

The Home Office ask that the above is done only in the most urgent of cases as there are a limited amount of officers available to monitor this email inbox and to process cases.

In addition, please be aware that more countries are closing airports and borders on a daily basis and this will also impact on people’s ability to travel.

Finally, the Home Office are working with our delivery partners, DX, to understand and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their services. Please be aware that documents may take longer than usual to be delivered.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also been making temporary changes to their policies regarding access to welfare benefits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We will be listing those in this section here. Further information can be found on the government website ‘Coronavirus and claiming benefits’.

  • As of Tuesday 24 March, access to jobcentres is limited, with members of the public not admitted into jobcentres unless they are directed to do so with a booked appointment. Only the most vulnerable claimants who cannot access DWP services by other channels will be able to attend, with the public urged to use online services. People can still make applications for benefits online if they are eligible. Further details can be found on the government website here.
  • Advances for all new UC claimants in need are now available online/via phone, with no requirement to attend the jobcentre.
  • As of Tuesday 24 March, benefit reviews and reassessments, including face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits, are suspended for three months. Details can be found on the government website here.
  • From 6 April, the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element will be increased by £20 per week for one year.
  • The Local Housing Allowance rates for private renters claiming the Universal Credit housing element or Housing Benefit will be increased to the 30th percentile of market rents.
  • The Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed claimants affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 has been relaxed.
  • National Insurance Number interviews are not currently taking place for 3 months effective from the 17th of March. The DWP have confirmed that individuals do not need a National Insurance number to apply for benefits or a job. Individuals can start work without a National Insurance Number as long as they have the right to work in the UK and employers have information to allow them to do this.

The Government has amended most types of eviction notice in the social and private rented sector, so that a tenant must be given three months’ notice before any court proceedings to evict commence. This change lasts for notices issues until 30 September 2020, but that date could be amended.

Alongside this, all current and upcoming eviction proceedings in the courts have been suspended so that no private or social tenant can be evicted for 90 days from 27 March 2020.

Further information can be found here.

On the 26th March, the Government wrote to local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough, and those in hostels and night shelters, by the weekend.

In the letter from the homelessness minister, Luke Hall MP, the Government has advised that local authorities ‘utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) who require shelter and other forms of support due to the pandemic’.

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network have produced a useful webpage with a link through to a more detailed factsheet aimed at Local Authorities which you can find here.

It includes info on:

  • Support for people with NRPF, including good practice already being undertaken by councils and supporting people during the pandemic when social services’ duties are engaged
  • Rights and entitlements of people with NRPF to government assistance being provided during the pandemic

From 30th March 2020, Right to rent and right to work checks have been adapted to make it easier for landlords and employers to carry them out during the coronavirus outbreak.

The temporary changes will mean the Home Office will not require landlords and employers to see original documents and will allow checks to be undertaken over video calls.

These temporary changes will mean that during the coronavirus outbreak prospective renters and workers are now able to submit scanned documents, rather than originals, to show they have a right to rent or right to work.

Further information can be found here

The NHS have set up a web-page that allows people living in England who have a medical condition that makes them extremely vulnerable to coronavirus to join a register.   Once registered, people will be able to ask for help and support, including getting deliveries of essential supplies like food.  People can register themselves or others can register on their behalf.

People seeking asylum are able to register if they are in scope of the categories below.

1. Solid organ transplant recipients
2. People with specific cancers

  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs

3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
6. People who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired

Accommodation providers in England will also be supporting people in asylum accommodation who fit the above criteria to register.

Other useful information: