Social Justice

Refugee women and children being made homeless due to 'inhumane' new Home Office policy

Frontline support workers say they've never seen anything like it – and it's all thanks to a change in Home Office policy

Suella Braverman, refugees

The Home Office says it is trying to reduce the cost of accommodating asylum seekers. Image: Brandon Hattiloney/No 10 Downing Street

Mothers and children are being made homeless at a week’s notice. Refugee agencies are powerless to help, only able to hand out sleeping bags. Workers with more than a decade’s experience have never seen anything like it. What’s going on? The Home Office has got a new policy.

A reduction in the “move on” period afforded to asylum seekers to find somewhere to live before they are kicked out of their accommodation, put in place on 1 August, is pushing asylum seekers onto the streets.

Those working with refugees and people experiencing homelessness told the Big Issue the policy immediately created an influx of vulnerable people with nowhere to go, placing greater strain on already overstretched services.

“It has caused people homelessness, stress and anxiety,” Alhussein Ahmed, a support worker with Merseyside Refugee Support Network (MRSN), told The Big Issue. 

More than 40 refugees have turned up at the MRSN – which has three part-time employees – since the change on 1 August, some turning to rough sleeping in parks.

Ahmed said he hadn’t seen anything like this level of demand in his 13 years working with refugees.

“Most of them are single,” he said. “But I’ve got a few cases with women with children.”

When asylum seekers are granted refugee status, they are given a certain amount of time before they are made to move out of their asylum accommodation – known as the move on period.

It previously started when refugees received their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), which allows them to receive benefits, open a bank account and find accommodation, and lasted for 28 days until the Home Office change.

However, the change means the 28-day period now starts when a refugee receives a letter saying their claim has been accepted. It is then usually another seven to 10 days before somebody receives their BRP. This means refugees are now finding they have as little as a week to find somewhere to live before they become homeless. Increasingly, said those who spoke to The Big Issue, they are finding themselves with nowhere to live.

“We’re getting a massive increase in referrals to our project,” Salma Ravat, chief executive of One Roof Leicester, told The Big Issue, while referring to the rule change.

“But unfortunately because we’re full, we don’t have the capacity to accommodate them. We’re actually having to turn people away.”

The reduced time means refugees are often unable to make appointments and arrange housing before they are told to leave their accommodation. As a result, said Ravat, organisations supporting them have limited options.

“Partner agencies have started giving out sleeping bags because basically the only option for them is to rough sleep,” she said.

“There’s not much you can do within seven days to get somebody accommodated and get benefits.”

Survivors of human trafficking are being turned away

Helen Hodgson, the operations director of Hope at Home – an organisation matching survivors of human trafficking with hosts – said referrals to the charity had tripled from July to August, when the change came into place.

“We just suddenly kept getting referrals from people who’d been given a seven-day notice to quit,” Hodgson told The Big Issue, with the number increasing from five to 16 in a single month.

As a result, they have had to turn people away, due to a lack of hosts. “People who’ve already been exploited are going to be vulnerable. As a result of this policy change, I think exploitation will increase,” she said.

In some cases, people are being made to leave accommodation before their BRP has arrived, said Ewan Roberts, service manager of Asylum Link Merseyside.

But when the change initially happened, Roberts and his team were also in the dark about why so many more people were turning up needing help.

“We wondered what the hell happened, because for the first three days we didn’t know anything about it,” he told The Big Issue.

With services already stretched thin, the strain on those trying to help is reaching breaking point, he added.

“One of the caseworkers came in last night, just sat down and said ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this’.”

Short of options and capacity to help vulnerable refugees find a home in time, organisations are encouraging them to present to their councils as homeless.

“There is no real way for someone to secure housing in seven days,” said Rosalind Duignan-Pearson of Micro Rainbow, which provides housing and move-on services for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees.

One Iranian trans man being helped by Micro Rainbow ended up sofa surfing after only being offered accommodation away from his support network.

Duignan-Pearson said he would have been better off had he been afforded the full 28 days.

“It might have been different” if he had 28 days, she told the Big Issue. “But even 28 days is very difficult to set up your entire life.

“He would have been better off, but 56 days would be much more workable.”

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Homeless charities and refugee support organisations are calling for the Home Office to scrap the change

In an open letter organised by the Refugee Council, 140 refugee and homeless organisations have called on the Home Office to reverse the change and give newly-recognised refugees longer to find a place to live.

Nationally, homelessness organisations are also seeing refugees being made homeless by the new rule, said Matt Downie, the chief executive of Crisis.

“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,” said Downie  

“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.” 

The charities say the government is ignoring its own Homelessness Reduction Act, which says at least 56 days are needed to find accommodation.

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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. 

The charities are calling for the period to be increased to give refugees a minimum of 28 days to find somewhere to live, for refugees to receive documentation at the same time, and to only begin the 28- day period once they receive their BRP.

In the long term, they want the government to increase the move-on period to at least 56 days.

Sile Reynolds, head of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said the decision was preventing survivors of torture from rebuilding their lives.

“Securing recognition of refugee status should be a moment of celebration for people who have been waiting years to rebuild their lives in safety,” said Reynolds.

“Instead, this intolerable policy will see torture survivors and other refugees end up in a desperately vulnerable situation on our streets, with local authorities forced, once again, to pick up the pieces.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing an unacceptable £6 million a day.

“We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.

“We are also modernising the asylum system, increasing productivity by simplifying and digitising processes, and recruiting record numbers of asylum decision-makers, with 40% more in post compared to the start of December 2022.”

The Big Issue has contacted the Home Office for further comment.

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