What changed? Home Office response to our Covid-19 asks - Refugee Council
September 25, 2020

What changed? Home Office response to our Covid-19 asks

Over the summer thousands of you signed our open letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and wrote to your MPs, calling on the government to do more to protect people seeking asylum and refugees during the pandemic.

Our demands were clear:

  1. Make it possible for people to claim asylum without having to travel unnecessarily.
  2. Give all people seeking asylum accommodation suitable for social distancing and self-isolation.
  3. Increase asylum support by £20 a week to bring it in line with Universal Credit payments.

But how did the government respond to our calls?  

Read on for a brief summary of policy changes regarding our three main asks, and if you’re interested in the detail you can find plenty here

1. No unnecessary travel

Normally, asylum claims need to be made in person, requiring people to make long journeys on public transport. During the height of the pandemic, this was putting people at risk. 

In April, the Home Office set up a number of temporary regional Asylum Intake Units (AIU) in major cities outside London to enable people to attend interviews. The Home Office also paused face-to-face asylum interviews in mid-March. There are now plans for face-to-face interviews to resume with some changes, including carrying out interviews remotely over video with the caseworker and interpreter in separate locations.

These changes are a step in the right direction, but are still a long way from allowing people to register remotely, which we would still like to see.  

2. Safe accommodation

At the start of the national lockdown, people in the asylum system were living in hostels and hotels with shared dining spaces used by multiple people.

In March the government paused evictions for renters and people in social housing, to avoid people being made homeless during the pandemic, and did the same for refugees. But unfairly, the pause expired for refugees at the end of June.

We demanded that the government take a consistent approach that ends discrimination against refugees. And after listening to us, the Home Office redressed their plan, pausing refugee evictions until September and adding extra measures to reduce the risk of homelessness.

We continue to urge the government to ensure no-one is left homeless at this time.

3. Increase in asylum support

During the pandemic the Government increased Universal Credit payments by £20 per week, and we called on them to match that for people on asylum support.

At the beginning of June, the Home Office announced that asylum support rates would increase by 26p a week.

This tiny increase was not only deeply insulting, but also dangerous, forcing some of the most vulnerable people in society to choose between essentials. We continue to push the government to correct this blatantly unfair treatment of people seeking asylum, and give them the support they require. 

38,151 of you signed our open letter and helped us press the government on these important issues. And while there is still lots more to be done, some key steps were made. 

The fantastic response from our supporters really helped us make the case for change to the Home Office by showing the extent of public support.