After being granted the right to live in the UK, refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Iraq now face homelessness and destitution as they are told to move from asylum support housing at extremely short notice and without the documentation they need to access mainstream housing and benefits.
Recent government policy changes to the process for newly recognised refugees, commonly referred to as the ‘move-on’ process, mean that people granted refugee status will now have just seven days’ notice that they need to leave their accommodation, making it virtually impossible to secure housing and financial support, and placing unnecessary pressures on local authority homelessness services.
Over 140 organisations including the Refugee Council, NACCOM, Shelter and Crisis have also highlighted in an open letter to the Government that the changes are placing huge pressure on the voluntary sector, with demands for support going unmet due to the significant number of refugees already made homeless by government policies.
The Refugee Council reports that refugees are already being told to leave their accommodation with only seven days’ notice, and the charity is expecting the number of people presenting in this position to grow significantly over the coming months.
In a letter to the Home Secretary and the Secretary for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the organisations urge the Government to abandon these changes and for ministers to work with local authorities and voluntary sector organisations to ensure people can access the services they need.
Key recommendations include:
- Commit to immediately reverse the changes so all refugees have a minimum of 28 days before they’re required to leave their accommodation. [see note 1, 2 and 3]
- Ensure that refugees receive all their documentation before the 28-day notice period begins, in line with recent Home Office policy. [see note 4]
- Issue clear guidance to local authorities that a newly recognised refugee is at risk of homelessness once they receive notification of the decision on their asylum claim, and are eligible for homelessness prevention support from that time without the need for evidence such as an eviction letter.
- Stagger the 7-day notices that people are now receiving and work with statutory services and civil society organisations to manage the increase in demand for support.
- Commit to working towards extending the move-on period to at least 56 days, in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act and the application for Universal Credit. [see note 5]
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“Having created a record backlog and failed to move people through the asylum system, the Government is now punishing vulnerable refugees for its own gross mismanagement by demanding they move on from hotels at short notice without the support they need.
“Being given refugee status should be a moment of huge relief for the men, women and children who have waited anxiously for months and years to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK. Instead, by giving them very limited time to start anew, they are very likely to face destitution, homelessness and fall into crisis.
“The government should be setting up refugees for success, enabling them to rebuild their lives by giving them far more time to settle with appropriate support and allowing them to work after 6 months in the asylum system.”
Bridget Young, NACCOM’s Director, said:
“Whilst we appreciate the urgent need to move people out of hotels and into more appropriate, community-based accommodation, the way to achieve this is not by evicting them into homelessness.
“We know from the vital work of our frontline members, who provide temporary accommodation and destitution support, that people leaving the asylum system need adequate time, targeted support and access to timely information and resources to manage the huge transition from asylum accommodation into communities. Giving people as little as seven days’ notice will create stress and anxiety, and force them to make crisis decisions, with many people having no option but to seek homelessness assistance, or to rough sleep if they are unable to access emergency support.
“We are deeply concerned about the unsustainable and unnecessary pressures being placed on statutory and voluntary homelessness services, including hosting and housing providers in our network. They are already supporting people who have been forced into rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness due to a lack of alternatives when it comes to exiting asylum accommodation. Homelessness and destitution should never be part of someone’s move-on plan.”
Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:
“It’s frankly inhumane to expect people who have just been granted refugee status to leave their asylum accommodation within seven days. In the vast majority of cases, it’s obvious to all of us that this can only lead to one outcome – homelessness and destitution. This is no way to start a new life in a country with a proud history of supporting people fleeing war and persecution.
“We’ve seen through our own services the unsustainable pressures this is placing on local authorities, who are already struggling to find affordable homes for the growing numbers of people facing homelessness. We stand alongside refugees and organisations supporting them in calling on the Government to abandon these changes and work with people affected to offer the right care and support.”
Ali Martin, a refugee from Sierra Leone who has been granted the right to live in the UK, shared his experience of struggling with the short move-on period after getting his refugee status (even before the recent policy changes that made this period even shorter):
“I won my appeal, I got my decision on 9th November. But the Home Office notified me that I should leave the premises. I would be homeless. An organisation contacted the local council on my behalf. They advised that I should wait five working days. Nobody contacted me, I waited, I reminded the council. I called on the phone, all day, nobody picked up the call. I wrote an email, attached my eviction notice, I am a blind person, I will be homeless by 3rd January, all you guys are going on holiday! What’s going to be my plight?”
Notes to editors:
- For many years the Home Office has recognised that it is impossible for someone to secure alternative accommodation, find employment, open a bank account or apply for welfare benefits until they receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). That is why the department’s policy has been that the 28-day “move-on” period starts when a person receives their BRP.
- It is extremely difficult for refugees to find housing and get financial support within the 28 days, and over many years civil society organisations have collected and published evidence that 28 days simply isn’t sufficient.
- The recent changes worsen this situation by starting the 28 days when someone receives a grant letter telling them their protection claim has been accepted, instead of when they receive their BRP. There is usually a minimum delay of between 7 and 10 days between the receipt of the grant letter and a BRP being delivered, meaning someone will already be well into the 28 days before they can even start to engage with the processes that are vital for them to avoid homelessness and destitution. Many local authorities will also only begin to provide homelessness prevention services once someone has received a discontinuation letter informing them their asylum support will end or the notice to quit.
- The letter’s recommendations also state that refugees should receive their grant letter, their BRP, the letter containing the date when their asylum support will end, and the notice to quit their accommodation on the same day.
- Evidence has highlighted how the Government’s Homelessness Reduction Act recognises that at least 56 days are usually needed to find accommodation for those at risk of homelessness. Additionally, Universal Credit has a built-in 35-day delay before a first payment is made. Lengthening the move-on period to 56 days would ensure that there is time for Universal Credit applications to be made and considered and for the first payment to be made, which would help prevent destitution and homelessness among newly recognised refugees.
- The full letter and signatories are available here.