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1,000 asylum seekers in cash-strapped Birmingham face homelessness by Christmas

Home Office decisions will "without doubt" lead to a rise in homelessness in the recently-bankrupt city

birmingham, suella braverman

Suella Braverman was told by the UN that the asylum backlog has been caused by slow decision-making. Image: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr

Three years’ worth of asylum seekers are set to be kicked out of their accommodation by Christmas in Birmingham, leaving the cash-strapped council facing a homelessness crisis, The Big Issue can reveal.

A Home Office drive to clear the asylum backlog has resulted in unprecedented number of claims being processed, and is compounded by recently-recognised refugees being given less time to find accommodation. This will “undermine” existing work and “without doubt” lead to a rise in homelessness, a cabinet member on Birmingham City Council told The Big Issue.

The Big Issue has reported how the changes in policy have already been forcing refugees onto the streets, with support services only able to hand out sleeping bags. Now some of the country’s biggest cities are bracing for the impact. 

Glasgow expects 1,400 asylum claims to be granted, placing a £50 million strain on its services. In Nottingham, 50 asylum seekers have already come forward seeking homelessness support since the change has been made.

The Home Office has told Birmingham’s council that an estimated 1,000 former asylum seekers in the city will be leaving asylum accommodation between 1 August and 31 December, Jayne Francis, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for housing and homelessness, told the Big Issue.

“This is unprecedented – it is equivalent to the number we typically see over three or more years – and puts enormous strain on housing during what is already a difficult time due to the cost of living crisis, during which we have been able to make progress in our homeless support services for people by focusing on prevention,” said Francis.

“However, the government’s decision to increase volumes of decisions to this level without due notice and risk mitigation will undermine this work and, without doubt, will lead to a rise in homelessness over both the immediate and longer term, in Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK.”

Promises to clear the 175,000-strong asylum backlog by Christmas are resulting in an influx of newly-recognised refugees needing support. 

Asylum seekers are provided accommodation by the Home Office while they wait for a decision on their refugee status. This accommodation, often in the form of hotels, costs the Home Office £6 million a day.

Adding to the problem for councils and support services is a change made in August, giving newly-recognised refugees just seven days to find a home and leave their asylum accommodation – down from the previous 28 days.

Bridget Young, director of NACCOM – a network of frontline charities that offer support and accommodation to refugees and people in the asylum system – said “evicting people into homelessness” was not the right way to get people out of hotels.

“The situation in Birmingham is one that, sadly, is being echoed across many parts of the UK. We are deeply concerned about the impact this is having on individuals, some of whom will have no choice but to sleep rough if they are unable to access emergency homelessness accommodation,” Young told the Big Issue.

“In the last few months, our frontline members have seen an unprecedented increase in referrals for their accommodation and support services from refugees leaving asylum accommodation, and this is resulting in unsustainable and unnecessary pressures being placed on both statutory and voluntary homelessness services.”

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Birmingham City Council declared bankruptcy in September, with government commissioners sent in to oversee cuts to mend the finances of England’s second-biggest city.

It is facing a budget shortfall of £87 million for this financial year and all non-essential spending must be stopped.

“It is unfortunate that the government, for several years now, have allowed huge delays to develop in the processing of asylum claims,” said Francis.

“We are working urgently with our partners to address this issue as best we can and provide people with support to settle in Birmingham and become independent.”

NACCOM’s Young called on the government to return to the 28-day move-on period, and to eventually put a 56-day period in place – in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act.

“What we are seeing is people who have been granted protection by the state pushed needlessly into homelessness due to the government’s punitive and chaotic approach to asylum move-on,” Young said. 

“This is not only an indictment of a failure to tackle the wider housing crisis and the resultant increasing levels of homelessness, but a worrying trend for service providers who are being forced to make impossible decisions about who they are unable to support. We do not want to see the most marginalised members of our communities being pushed further down the list of priorities.”

The Home Office has been contacted by The Big Issue for comment. In a previous statement, it said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing an unacceptable £6 million a day.”

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