Asylum support delays force people seeking safety into homelessness

Picture of a young man standing outside his asylum accommodation

Continuing Home Office failures are leaving people seeking safety in Britain homeless and forcing families further into poverty, a new analysis by Refugee Action shows.

Charities and solicitors had to step in to prevent a woman, who was six-months pregnant, becoming street homeless after she waited more than three months for a response to her family’s asylum support application.

Another woman waited 170 days for an asylum support decision – during which time she gained refugee status and never received the help she was entitled to.

This is despite legislation setting out the Home Office’s duty to prevent people seeking asylum becoming destitute while their claims are processed, a process which can take years and during which the vast majority of people are banned from working.

Refugee Action analysed 162 applications for asylum support made between May 2017 and May 2018 through its projects in Birmingham, London and Manchester. These new figures show:

  • People at risk of homelessness and with no means of supporting themselves are waiting three times longer than they should to receive Section 95 support, which provides housing and a small amount of money (just £5.39 a day) for essential living costs, including food, clothing and transport.
  • This support is only available to people who can demonstrate they will be destitute within 14 days. But people are waiting an average of more than a month and a half (46 days) to receive support.
  • Some are waiting far longer – five people waited over 100 days before their application for S95 support was granted.
  • People applying for Section 4 support, which is available to some of the most vulnerable families, who have been refused asylum, waited an average of 36 days for a decision on their application.
  • Ineligible for emergency accommodation, Refugee Action is supporting people forced to sleep on park benches, in mosques or on friends’ sofas, while they wait weeks and in some cases months for Section 4 support.
  • IT failures have compounded the problem: when the Home Office’s new system, ATLAS, was introduced in March, average waiting times soared by 325%, from 12 days in February to 51 in April.

Mahmoud Salem, who fled persecution in Egypt due to his Nubian minority status, was homeless for two and a half months while he waited for Section 4 asylum support, during which time he slept on the floor of his mosque and relied on friends for food.

“Someone who has come just to apply for asylum, they just want to live and be alive,” Dr Salem, who was teaching public policy in Kuwait before he claimed asylum, says. “I had a stable life and now I am in a very bad situation.”

Refugee Action is releasing its latest analysis of asylum support a year after the publication of its report Slipping through the cracks, which looked at the impact of long delays on people seeking asylum.

One year on, the charity finds destitute people seeking asylum are still struggling to access the support they desperately need.

The Home Office has failed to act on Refugee Action’s key July 2017 recommendations:

  • Following its own guidance and policy on asylum support, including making decisions on Section 95 within the destitution test timeframe of 14 days.
  • Putting in place a transparent approach to decision-making on asylum support

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, says:

“Forcing people who have fled violence and persecution into homelessness and poverty in Britain is morally indefensible.

“We’ve repeatedly asked the Home Office to address the ongoing delays and IT failures that are leaving vulnerable people destitute and unable to feed themselves or their families, and to be open and accountable for its decisions.

“These cruel delays are further evidence of an asylum system in urgent need of reform to ensure it is fair, effective and compassionate.”

Ends.

For more information and interviews contact the Refugee Action press office on 077717481530 or email JennaP@refugee-action.org.uk.