Social Justice

'Irreversible harm' done as Home Office resumes forcing refugees onto streets after Christmas pause

The government has U-turned on some policies making refugees homeless. But a London homelessness shelter has warned the damage is already done

One reader argued that while the UK has always had a reputation for championing human rights, the current government has damaged this legacy. Image: Number 10/Flickr

Home Office asylum evictions have caused “irreversible harm” despite a series of government U-turns, a London homelessness shelter has said, as refugee evictions resume this week.

Glass Door, which opened its winter night shelter in November, has experienced unmanageable demand thanks in part to the consequences of Rishi Sunak’s government’s drive to clear the asylum backlog.

Its shelters now have a waiting list of more than 600 people, with about a third of the charity’s casework made up of refugees made homeless after leaving Home Office accommodation. 

Referrals were 90% higher than the previous year and the charity has temporarily closed referrals for men.

It comes after The Big Issue revealed the Home Office had U-turned on a policy which gave many refugees as little as a week’s notice before being evicted, a major factor in pushing them onto the streets.

“While we are glad to see the change back to 28 days, a great deal of irreversible harm has already been done over the last four months. There has been a huge human impact, as well as massively increased pressures on local authorities and frontline services,” said Neil Parkinson, Glass Door’s co-head of casework.

“Unfortunately, we will likely continue to see increased levels of homelessness as an after-effect of this policy for some time.” 

Asylum evictions resumed on Wednesday (3 January) after a pause for Christmas – seen by many as a tacit admission Home Office policies were causing homelessness.

As the statistics watchdog investigated Rishi Sunak’s claim he has cleared the asylum backlog, the human toll of meeting that target remains.

‘You can feel there is hope now’

On his third Christmas day in England since he fled Yemen, Adam sat down for his first Christmas dinner.

“It was like wow, now I’m in the UK,” he says. After being evicted from asylum accommodation in October, Adam (not his real name) became homeless when he was granted refugee status.

In November, The Big Issue reported how he was moving between host families, unable to rebuild his life. We exposed mistakes that had led to him sleeping on the streets, which prompted an apology from Newham Council. 

Now, he is living in supported accommodation and beginning to find stability. “You have to start step by step,” he says.

Government rules thwarted Adam’s attempts to find work while in the asylum hotel, but he is now preparing for upcoming job interviews, and even able to wonder about a reunion with his family. He credits the change to host families and others who have shown him kindness.

“I feel even that people are different, everything is different,” he says. “You can feel there is hope now. Something very much different.”

In a U-turn first revealed by The Big Issue, the Home Office decided to give asylum seekers more time to find new housing before being evicted from asylum hotels. 

It returned to previous policy, where refugees were given 28 days’ notice from receiving biometric residency permits allowing them to open a bank account and claim benefits, rather than 28 days from when they were told their case had been approved.

The government claimed it had changed course in September – but charities and frontline organisations had not been told. Following a pause for Christmas, asylum evictions resumed on 3 January amid government boasts that the legacy backlog of cases had been cleared.

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