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Practical Advice- Asylum support in a hard to navigate system

Practical Advice- Asylum support in a hard to navigate system

Practical Advice- Asylum support in a hard to navigate system

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

This as a guest blog from Bethan Lant Advocacy, Training & Development Manager at Praxis. Praxis have been facilitating our Pan-London Migrant Frontline Network since 2016. The Network offers support to frontline staff who work with people experiencing homelessness in London related to immigration status. The Pan-London Migrant Frontline Network facilitates quarterly events, which provide a regular opportunity to bring together frontline workers in London to network, share expertise, and experience, and link to decision makers.

In our current system, advising people on the outcome of an application for asylum support can be quite tricky.  Assisting someone to apply for asylum support or advising them on asylum support is not a “regulated matter” and that means that it can be done by anyone regardless of whether they are regulated to provide immigration and asylum advice. 

But what do you say to an individual considering applying for asylum about current support accommodation, or about the risks of being sent to Bibby Stockholm, or one of the former barrack sites currently in use as asylum accommodation?

Candour and as much clarity as possible are important

Firstly, it is important to honestly acknowledge that the current system is deeply unsatisfactory and, while there are a number of legal challenges either underway of being considered with regard to various aspects of the system, there is little likelihood of change in the short term.

Clarity about what kind of accommodation is likely to be offered is difficult in a system which is subject to frequent change.  What we can say at present is this:

  • Many people on asylum support are accommodated in hotels and hostels and these are of varying quality. People are highly likely to have to share rooms under the governments “Operation Maximisation” initiative, and will get much lower levels of asylum support than those in self-catering accommodation: currently only £8.86 per person per week.  While food will be provided, the standard of this food may be unsatisfactory.
  • For a single adult male under the age of 65, there is no guarantee that the offer of accommodation for an individual will not be on the Bibby Stockholm or in Napier or Penally, the former barracks currently being used to accommodate some of those those seeking asylum. Even those who are initially housed in other accommodation may receive notices later down the line of intent to move them to one of these places at a later stage.
  • Home Office accommodation is offered on a no choice basis and “failure to travel” to take up an offer of asylum accommodation without what the Home Office deems to be a reasonable explanation is highly likely to result in a termination of asylum support.

Applying for asylum support is a choice not everyone will want to make

It is important to stress that an application is entirely a matter of choice and that any applicant is entitled to end their asylum support at any stage.  As one of the criteria for asylum support application is that the applicant is destitute or likely to become destitute within 14 days, this can feel akin to advising someone whether to starve or not.  But it is important that individuals understand that they don’t have to apply and don’t have to take up accommodation offered. 

This may leave them in a very difficult situation, but we know that many people survive for months or years without asylum support, moving between friends and relying on goodwill and charity for food and other support.  While we might prefer that no one be put in this position, when the asylum support system is as bad as it is, we must recognise that some people will prefer not to engage with it, however precarious the alternative.

Reducing the risk of unsuitable accommodation

There is Home Office caseworker guidance on suitability of accommodation which is available here Allocation of accommodation (publishing.service.gov.uk).  The guidance states that while accommodation is offered on a “no choice” basis, suitability for accommodation must be assessed on an individual basis.  It provides information on when room-sharing or an offer of accommodation on a barge or barracks accommodation would not be considered appropriate. 

While there are limits to what can be done to reduce the risk of an individual being placed in unsuitable accommodation, there are still some things which can be done in some cases.

  • If, having read the Home Office guidance, you believe that an individual belongs to a category of person for whom room sharing, or accommodation on a barge or former barracks is deemed inappropriate, help the person to obtain evidence of their unsuitability and submit it to the Home Office (usually via Migrant Help) either at the point of application or when an offer of unsuitable accommodation is made. In particular you may wish to consider the excellent guide to room maximisation produced by AFRIL, Operation Maximise: Room Sharing in Hotels – Guidance | Law Centre Northern Ireland (lawcentreni.org)
  • Raise safeguarding concerns with the Home Office. Any safeguarding concerns should be raised for those in the asylum system at the time when the concern arises via the Home Office safeguarding reporting.  Any safeguarding concerns about an individual in the asylum system should be emailed to asylumsafeguarding@homeoffice.gov.uk, and should also be raised with the asylum accommodation provider.  While this process can often feel fruitless, evidence that safeguarding concerns have been previously raised can be important when challenging offers of unsuitable accommodation.
  • Support individuals to find out about and access support services in the asylum accommodation they are offered. There is support on offer from voluntary (and sometimes statutory via local authorities) organisations in most places where those seeking asylum are accommodated including the Bibby Stockholm and the barracks accommodation.  However, be aware that they can be tricky to contact as many are entirely volunteer based.
  • If an individual wishes to challenge the offer of accommodation on the Bibby Stockholm in particular, please do see the latest guidance on making challenges available on the Migrants Organise website, here Publication Articles Archives - Migrants Organise

Further guidance and support

Keep up to date with the Pan-London Migrant Frontline Network's work, events and support to staff by registering to their e-news here.

Save the date for their next event on 16th April here.

For further support and information you may wish to access the following resources:

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