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Training Fund: Guiding refugees through complex housing law

Training Fund: Guiding refugees through complex housing law

Training Fund: Guiding refugees through complex housing law

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Amy from the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with people who have suffered extreme human rights abuses, explains how the training fund has helped her feel more confident supporting survivors of trafficking to apply for housing when their refugee status is approved.

The Helen Bamber Foundation supports survivors of trafficking, torture, and other extreme human rights abuses, to seek refugee status in the UK and begin rebuilding their fractured lives. The foundation operates a model of integrated care, with specialist teams supporting clients through different stages in their journey. Amy, who took part in the training, sits in the housing team as a Housing and Welfare Casework Coordinator.

The goal of the housing and welfare team is to make sure that people are receiving the statutory support they're entitled to and are set up with safe short or long term housing solutions. These extremely vulnerable individuals are at particularly high risk of facing homelessness and destitution, within a housing system that is incredibly difficult to navigate – even more so for people experiencing profound trauma, in an unfamiliar country, with a language that they often aren’t able to understand.

The Foundation teams work collaboratively to support survivors towards achieving ‘refugee status’, which unlocks access to benefits, employment, education, healthcare and housing. Amy explains that:

“The moment when people are at the most risk of falling through the cracks is actually when they have just achieved their refugee status, as this is the point at which they are required to leave their asylum support accommodation, and instead approach a local authority for housing options. The Housing and Welfare team supports survivors with making homelessness applications on their behalf, seeking their consent at every stage, and keeping them fully informed about the process at all times.”

The Need

Because of the extreme nature of the human rights abuses that they have suffered, the survivors the Foundation works to support often have complicated physical and mental health needs that it is vital for the council to be aware of and take into account for their personal housing plan. If the application does not express the individual’s circumstances plainly and compellingly enough, even the most vulnerable people can be found by the council not to be in priority need, so a combination of working with individuals from the earliest opportunity, and a really robust understanding of the application processes and requirements (which can vary from council to council) is crucial.

“Having knowledgeable support in place to help people make these homelessness applications is so important because it can be really difficult, even from a professional perspective at times, to understand the extent of information the council is asking for. Medical records, supporting letters from clinicians, psychiatric assessments, and so forth, that contextualise the trauma of an individual’s situation, and evidence that they have priority need, can be complicated to gather and present.”

As a relatively new member both to the team at Helen Bamber Foundation, and to this specific area of housing – she previously specialised in resettlement schemes – it was important for Amy to learn the essentials of UK housing law, as well as the specific idiosyncrasies and common pitfalls of what making a successful homelessness application to a local authority, on a client’s behalf, entails. Not least so that she can ensure that her clients fully understand their own rights and entitlements as well.

"The application for the Training Fund was very simple and straightforward. I felt reassured that I was contacting someone about the right kind of funding for me, because it can be difficult and confusing, when you’re trying to get training that really helps people. But this course has really made a difference to how I understand the challenges facing my clients when they need to make that transition between refugee accommodation and more permanent housing."

The Training

Delivered via Zoom as half-day group sessions across 4 weeks, the training was attended by a wide range of housing and homelessness professionals working in the refugee and asylum support sector – from charities to housing associations, to local authorities themselves.

“It was such an interesting mix of people participating from all stages of the refugee status and homelessness application processes. There was a combination of presentations, breakout sessions, workbooks, case studies, etc, so that we could contextualise the technical things we were learning and discuss and test things out with each other. I think it was a nice way to learn and the instructor was very receptive to questions, which was really helpful and reassuring.

The first two mornings we looked at people’s rights when they receive the notice to leave asylum supported accommodation, and what to look out for in a tenancy to make sure that the landlord had followed the process as legally required of them. Then the latter two sessions focussed more on homelessness applications, how to approach local authorities, and what their duties are.”

Amy noted how insightful it was to learn how different organisations in the refugee and asylum space went through the homelessness application process, hear what their protocols were (if any), understand where the joint points of frustration are, and share experience and advice on them. Especially useful was hearing first-hand from the local authority participants, at the other end of the spectrum, about how they consider and process applications in practice.

The Impact

Since undertaking this training, Amy has found not only that she has a better overview of the housing and homelessness system’s workings in general, but that she actively feels more comfortable and confident in understanding, explaining, and advocating for the technicalities around prospective tenancies for her vulnerable clients. With a lot of her role being advocacy based, it’s important for Amy to understand what duty local authorities do owe to her clients, especially when decisions made against vulnerable people might have the right of review.

“It’s tricky but, one of the things I’ve really learned we need to explain to clients, in order to get them safe as fast as possible, is that it’s really important for them not to refuse offers of accommodation from the council – even if it isn’t what they or we were hoping for. Because refusing any accommodation can result in you being classified as not having a housing need, and then we’re back to square one.”

Amy explains that this can feel counterintuitive when, as a client’s representative, you desperately want them to be housed in the way that makes them most happy and feel able to thrive. Especially when having a home is such an important step in the recovery process of someone who has been trafficked, and forcibly displaced from their homes. Unfortunately, though, the current housing situation in the UK (if you are fortunate enough to be approved) often can’t accommodate anything more than the most basic comfort, even if that means being accommodated away from your network. Thanks to the training though, Amy feels more confident in her ability to advocate for the best possible housing situation for her clients' complex needs. 

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