Asylum seekers forced into homelessness by paperwork delays, study finds

The government has been accused of routinely denying support to asylum seekers, leaving them homeless and unable to feed their families, following analysis of more than 300 recent cases. Research conducted by Refugee Action found that the Home Office was missing its own deadlines for finding emergency accommodation for homeless and destitute asylum seekers, and in some cases wrongly refusing those who make claims for emergency assistance. In one case, it took more than 10 months to make a decision on whether to grant an applicant asylum support – so long that the person had already received refugee status.
Asylum seekers interviewed for the report say these errors have had dire consequences, including forcing families to stay in accommodation deemed not fit for habitation, with leaking toilets or no heating. One mother and her child reported sleeping on the floor because it was the only place they could avoid being bitten by bed bugs; a pregnant woman was forced to choose between sleeping on a stranger’s sofa and sleeping in the street; at least one person has attempted suicide.
Refugee Action analysed 315 cases logged between January 2016 and March 2017 in which they or another refugee charity, Asylum Support Housing Advice (ASHA) in Manchester, helped asylum seekers to apply for support. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or receive mainstream benefits while they wait for a decision on their claim, but support is available to those who are destitute. Section 98 support helps provide emergency accommodation and board, while section 95 support is longer-term and entitles people to accommodation and an allowance of £36.95 per week.
The analysis found that applications for section 98 support were regularly wrongly rejected. Of the 88 people Refugee Action helped with applications, less than half were initially approved. Of those Refugee Action assisted to reapply, 92% were subsequently granted. In a large majority of these overturned cases, the successful second application offered no new evidence, indicating the Home Office was wrong to initially refuse the claim. “It is an appalling scandal and it has to stop,” said Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action. “The government does have, on paper, policies and procedures to ensure that people who have fled war, abuse and persecution don’t end up homeless. But in practice they are consistently in flagrant breach of those policies.” “The scale of the Home Office failure to follow those policies and procedures is pretty staggering. In more than nine out of 10 cases for them to change their mind and issue an approval for a request for accommodation and support when they refused it the first time is extraordinary. There’s clearly a huge gulf between what the system should be doing for people and what it’s actually doing in practice.”
The report also alleges the Home Office is failing to meet its targets for providing emergency support, putting vulnerable people at risk of homelessness. According to Home Office guidance, a decision on section 98 emergency support should be given on the day the application is made, as long as the application is submitted by 3pm, due to the fact the application is for emergency assistance. In seven of the 88 cases Refugee Action assisted with in Manchester, no response was received by the Home Office that day, despite the application being made in time. In several instances Refugee Action paid for the applicant to stay at a hostel that night to prevent them from sleeping rough.
The report also found issues with the granting of section 95 support. People supported by Refugee Action or ASHA waited an average of 59 days to receive the support after submitting an application. One man from Eritrea waited 308 days to hear about his claim and was granted refugee status before he received an answer. During this time he and his wife struggled to feed their child and baby and could not afford to heat their home during winter.

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