Social Justice

Home Office U-turns and makes 'admission of wrongdoing' on plan to cut asylum backlog

Charities have complained nobody was told when the Home Office decided to give refugees longer to avoid homelessness

Glasgow refugee

Authorities in Glasgow have warned of 'unprecedented pressure' on homelessness services as refugees are evicted. Image: Living Rent Scotland

The Home Office has made a U-turn and “an admission of wrongdoing”, charities say, after its plan to cut the asylum backlog led to soaring homelessness among newly-recognised refugees.

For months The Big Issue has revealed how the government’s reduction in the time a newly-recognised refugee can remain in asylum accommodation before being evicted had led to a new homelessness crisis.

In August, as the government tried to reduce the bill for asylum accommodation, a change in practice meant refugees were given less time before being evicted. This change saw homelessness among recently-recognised refugees triple and saw widespread condemnation from homelessness charities, refugee charities and The Big Issue alike.

The Home Office now claims this was a temporary measure for August, and that refugees are now being given 28 days from receiving paperwork allowing them to claim benefits – known as a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) – rather than the controversial period of 28 days from being told their asylum claim was granted.

“This U-turn is as much of an admission of wrongdoing as you will get from the Home Office under this government. Recent months have seen a huge spike in refugees being made homeless, with our volunteers aware of friends sleeping rough on our streets across the country,” said Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais.

“Reverting back to the old 28-day move-on is not enough. As a minimum, the move-on period should be aligned with the Homelessness Act, which legislates for 56 days’ notice. However, if we want to avoid refugees being left destitute on our streets this winter, the most pressing action we need is a complete ban on Home Office winter evictions, covering the next few months, not just the few days between Christmas and New Year when the Home Office is closed.”

Despite a Home Office minister insisting refugees are given ‘plenty’ of time, there are warnings that refugees are still being failed.

Even other parts of the government say refugees are not being given 28 days. Michael Gove expressed concern over ‘tight and tough’ seven-day evictions to MPs last week, and a senior DLUHC civil servant said councils had complained to the department that refugees were not always being afforded 28 days.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom, parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Home Office, yesterday acknowledged the drive to clear backlog is increasing homelessness, in what is believed to be the first official acknowledgement of the crisis from the government.

Under the previous rules, delays in receiving the permit meant refugees who had just received status found themselves short of time to find new accommodation, with many being forced onto the streets at just seven days’ notice.

Sharpe told peers on Monday (18 December) that refugees were being given even longer than 28 days.

But refugees are still being left in the lurch, said Bridget Young, director of NACCOM, a network of asylum accommodation providers.

“Along with the trauma and pressure this has placed on individuals and local support agencies, the changes to cessation practice by the Home Office have been marked by a consistent lack of clarity and poor communication. The picture on the ground is still very mixed, leaving frontline services uncertain at a very challenging time, as decisions continue thick and fast,” Young told The Big Issue.

“We also know that even if the 28-day clock starts from receipt of their BRP, people may still receive as little as seven days’ notice that their housing and support is ending. This is unlikely to improve the dire increase of refugee homelessness we are watching unfold.”

Sara Nathan, co-founder of Refugees at Home, told The Big Issue that despite assurances given by Lord Sharpe, the charity’s experience working with many new refugees is that people were evicted at very short notice all autumn.

“It caused a surge in homelessness and a huge amount of unnecessary distress,” she said. “We welcome the assurance that the department will now revert back to its previous approach. We would like to thank our guests and their hosts, and The Big Issue, for speaking out and shining a light on what was happening.”

A government spokesperson said: “Once a newly recognised refugee receives a biometric residence permit, they get 28 days to move-on from asylum accommodation.”

“Support is also available through Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access Universal Credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing.”

“We are working with local authorities to manage the impact of asylum decisions as the legacy backlog reduces.”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Sunak's call to end 'sick note culture' and reform benefits is 'demonising' disabled and sick people
Rishi Sunak during his speech on the UK's 'sick note culture'
Benefits

Sunak's call to end 'sick note culture' and reform benefits is 'demonising' disabled and sick people

'It's a choice between dinner and devices': Millions of children held back by digital poverty
digital inequality/ child with device
Exclusive

'It's a choice between dinner and devices': Millions of children held back by digital poverty

My daughter has been trapped in hospital for years with a learning disability – and she wants out
learning disability hospital/ sarah
Disabilities

My daughter has been trapped in hospital for years with a learning disability – and she wants out

Millions missing out on £23billion in unclaimed DWP benefits – an average of £2,700 per person
unclaimed benefits/ dwp
Benefits

Millions missing out on £23billion in unclaimed DWP benefits – an average of £2,700 per person

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know