Joint letter to the Government: crisis in asylum support

By November 5, 2019 Press release

Refugee Action has joined with more than 100 other organisations in a letter to Victoria Atkins MP, to set out our strong concerns about the impact of the new AIRE contract on vulnerable people in need of, and entitled to, asylum support; and to urge the Government to take action to address these acute problems.

We have written to Ms Atkins, the Minister for Safeguarding and Vulnerability at the Home Office, to set out examples of the kind of problems we and our partners are witnessing, and to make recommendations to the Government on the urgent steps we believe must be taken to address these failings.

See the joint letter below.

 

30 October 2019

Dear Ms. Atkins,

As representatives of 120 UK organisations working to welcome, support and advocate for people in the asylum system, we are writing to you to raise severe failures in the new Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Assistance (AIRE) contract, which is being delivered by Migrant Help.

The AIRE service should provide advice and guidance to service users on the asylum process, their rights and the support available to them. It is also meant to be a single point of contact, independent from the accommodation providers and the Home Office, to report issues relating to housing. The new contracting arrangements, introduced for both AIRE and the Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts (AASC), were meant to offer improvements to the publicly recognised problems with the previous system.

However, the transition to the new contracts, which took place during Summer 2019 has instead resulted in drastically increased waiting times for asylum support applicants. Vulnerable people are waiting for hours to be connected to Migrant Help staff, despite the Statement of Requirements for the AIRE contract stipulating that all calls should be answered in one minute. The phoneline is the single point of contact and often the only avenue available to people in the asylum system to seek help with many issues, including critical matters such as destitution, safeguarding and unsafe or degrading accommodation. Insofar as people cannot access these central service points, the system is failing vulnerable people and exposing them to suffering and harm.

People dispersed without subsistence support already set up have reported difficulties in resolving the issue through Migrant Help, leaving destitute people unable to access emergency support in order to meet their basic living needs. We are also aware of cases where people have been unable to report urgent safeguarding issues to Migrant Help, including around abuse, which has left them exposed to risk and feeling unsafe in their homes. In addition, accommodation providers have been unable to promptly address issues reported relating to housing, which in more serious cases has left people living in unsafe and uninhabitable conditions, including in homes without electricity, with no functioning toilet, or with flooding leading to structural collapse.

Other aspects of the Migrant Help service have also experienced unacceptable delays. There have been reports of support applications which are processed via Migrant Help’s inbox before being passed on to UKVI for a decision being delayed by weeks. The direct consequence of these delays is that vulnerable people are being forced into situations of destitution and homelessness. It is not acceptable that those who are fully entitled to support are being left penniless and without anywhere to sleep, for days and weeks at a time. This is a potential breach of the rights of those affected under the Human Rights Act 1998.

With ultimate responsibility for the management and oversight of this contract, it is clear that the Home Office has failed in correctly anticipating demand and working with the Provider to ensure adequate numbers of trained staff were in place before transition. We recognise that there has been an increase in asylum applicants in the last few months but fluctuations in arrivals are to be expected and planned for accordingly and do not justify the severe problems that people are facing.

We are calling on you to take urgent action to address this situation, including:

  1. Make public your assessment of the AIRE service, including an analysis of the factors that have contributed to the current situation and the actions you propose to take to address the gaps identified
  2. Take urgent action to ensure that central service points are consistently accessible, in line with the standards set out in the Statement of Requirements for the AIRE contract. This will involve effective monitoring of the FRC and EAGL, and responsive measures to ensure the service works for people, including by providing adequate provision for face-to-face support and community outreach with service users
  3. Put in place a clear and effective process and decision timescale for emergency homelessness and support applications, notably s4(2). This process must be properly resourced, with barriers to escalation to Home Office support decision makers removed. This process should be effectively communicated to all stakeholders and its results routinely published
  4. Ensure regular communications with the voluntary sector relating to the action plan and timeline for ensuring that AIRE provision is up to contractual standards, including setting up a regular forum with key stakeholders to identify and address ongoing problems and prevent them from worsening
  5. Commit to publish data relating to all aspects of the Government’s performance on asylum support, including the performance of the AIRE and AASC contract providers, so that standards are subject to independent scrutiny and can be monitored by relevant agencies and regulators

The delivery of asylum support and accommodation is a public service delivered through public funds. They are the responsibility of the Home Office, derived from its obligations under UK and international law on refugee protection and reception standards. The dignity and wellbeing of people in the asylum system should be at the centre of this public service. Currently, too many people are failed by that system, causing very significant and needless suffering among those it is meant to protect.

Given the urgency of the situation, we look forward to a prompt reply and note that we will be sharing this letter with interested stakeholders.

Yours Sincerely,

Will Sutcliffe, Trustee, Abigail Housing
Rosie Gunn, Co-Founder, Action for Refugees
Julian Prior, CEO, Action Foundation
Saida Soge, Project Manager, ARC Project, Blackburn
Lynn Evans, Manager, ASIRT
Richard Chessum, Co-chair of Trustees, ASSIST Sheffield
Ewan Roberts, Centre Manager, Asylum Link Merseyside
Andrea Vukovic, Project Director, Asylum Matters
Sheila Arthur, Manager, Asylum Seeker Housing Project
Alice Webb, Director, Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP)
Sarah Taal, Director, Baobab Womans Project
Alan Curtis, Chair, Barnsley Town of Sanctuary
Sarah Jemison, Chair of Trustees, BEACON (Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern)
Josh Evans, Vice Chair, Bearwood Action for Refugees
Gina Rowlands, Managing Director, Bevan Healthcare CIC
Andy Jolly, Trustee, Birmingham Community Hosting Network (BIRCH)
Ros Holland, Chief Executive Officer, Boaz Trust
Will Sutcliffe, Chair, Bradford City of Sanctuary
Sue Balcomb, Co-organiser, Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Support and Advice Network (BIASAN)
Rachael Bee, Director, Bristol Hospitality Network
Beth Wilson, Director, Bristol Refugee Rights
Dave Newall, Project Manager, Brushstrokes
Sue Bent, CEO, Central England Law Centre
Simon Harris, CEO, Citizens advice Staffordshire North and Stoke
Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary
Abdul Bary Malik, Integration Key Worker, Connecting Opportunities at Halifax Opportunities Trust
Loraine Masiya Mponela, Chairperson, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
Toni Soni, Centre Director, Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre
Fran Wood, Chair, Darlington Assistance for Refugees
John East, Coordinator, Darwen Asylum Refugee Enterprise (DARE)
Janet Fuller, Manager, Derby Refugee Forum
Jane Fowden, Trustee, Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield (DASH)
Paul Martin, Chair, Destitution Project, Bolton
Janice Foster, Trustee and Co-organiser, Doncaster Conversation Club
Sue Arnall, Hon. Treasurer, Eagles Wing Support Group, Bury
David Jackson, Coordinator, East Glasgow Integration Network
Giulia Pizzolini, Manager, Entraide
Shingai Mabhungo, Group Facilitator, Equity Partnership
Rocio Cifuentes, Chief Executive, Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team Wales (EYST Wales)
Jennie Geddes, Director / Senior Counsellor, Family Refugee Support Project, Liverpool
Mauricio D’Silva, Coordinator, Fatima House
Dr Pamela Wortley, Volunteer Friend, Friends of the Drop-In, Sunderland
Annika Joy, Project Director, Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers
Vie Clerc, Chair, Global Bradford
Denise McDowell, Director, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Kerry Smith, Chief Executive, Helen Bamber Foundation
Helen Syrop, Manager, Hope Housing
Phil Davis, Manager, Hope Projects
Housing4All, Northern Ireland
Paul Bridges, Manager, Huddersfield Mission
Bini Araia, Regional Projects Manager, Investing in People and Culture
Barbara Hungin, Chair, Justice First
Lucy Gunn, Treasurer, Kings Heath Action for Refugees
Bill Dennis, Chair, Kirklees Multi-agency Group
Jon Beech, Director, Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network (LASSN)
Ali Maghoub, Director, Leeds Refugee Forum
Clive Sneddon, Chair, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary
Belay Kahsay, Manager, Manchester Refugee Support Network
Dr Pete Widlinksi, Chair, Mary Thompson Fund
Remzije Sherifi, Director, Maryhill Integration Network
Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action
Emma Crossley, Project Manager, Meeting Point Leeds
Seána Roberts, Operations Manager, Merseyside Refugee Support Network
Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive, Migrants Organise
Furaha Mussanzi, Centre Manager, Millside Centre
Leonie Hart, Co-Director, Mothership
Hazel Williams, Director, NACCOM Network
Pat Bond, Steering Group Member, New to the UK, North Shields
Clare Hurst, Senior Solicitor, North East Law Centre
Ben Hopkinson, Trustee, Northumberland County of Sanctuary
Caron Boulghassoul, CEO, Nottingham Aramathea Trust
Rob Hooper, Church Leader, Oasis Church
Rev Helen Hayes, Chair of Trustees, One Roof Leicester
Anna Lewis, CEO, Open Door North East
Bashir Siraj, Project Coordinator, Open Doors Hull
Revd Bill Braviner and Ruth Hicks, Asylum Seekers Lead, Parish of Stockton St Peter & Elton St John
Karen Pearce, Director, Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS)
Robina Qureshi, Executive Director, Positive Action in Housing
Liz Frost, Manager, Premier Learning Rotherham
Kate Percival, Manager, Rainbow Haven, Manchester
Peter J Chapman, Coordinator for RAS Development, RAS Management Group, Stockton Baptist Church
Frances Groves, Coordinator, RASPs
Revd Ernie Whalley, Chair, REACH Project at New North Road Baptist Church
Stephen Hale, Chief Executive, Refugee Action
Arten Llazari, CEO, Refugee and Migrant Centre
Fidelis Chebe, Operations and Development Manager, Refugee Education Training Advice Service (RETAS)
Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair, Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts
Cath McGee, DASS Project Manager, Refugee Survival Trust
Alison Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Refugee Women Connect
Jeremy Thompson, Manager, Restore
Uchenna Odenigbo, Manager, Revive UK, Salford
Azizzum Akhtar, Chief Executive, Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance (REMA)
Tessa Willow, Chief Executive, Sahir House, Merseyside
Sally Smith, Reverend, Sanctus St. Marks
Chair, Scottish Asylum Seeker Residents’ Association
Thomas Martin, Director, Sheffield City of Sanctuary
Sarah Hinton, CEO, Shine (West Bowling)
Veecca Smith Uka, Chair and Co-founder, Sisters United
Stuart Crosthwaite, Co-Secretary, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)
Becky Hellewell, Senior Caseworker, St Augustine’s Centre Halifax
Peter Gowland, Trustee, St Joseph’s Asylum Seeker and Refugee Drop-In Hartlepool
Anne Shand, Advice Contract and Admin Manager, St Vincent de Paul Society (Bradford)
Abi Martin, Project Manager, St. Chad’s Sanctuary
Geoff Holt, Churchwarden, St. Johns Church
Mick Taylor, Project Coordinator, SWAP (Support for Wigan Arrivals Project)
Satinder Collins, Chair, Tees Valley of Sanctuary
Sarah Durrant, Director of Advocacy Services, TGP Cymru
Indi Elcock, Project Coordinator, The Anchor Project
Jacky Knowles, Project Manager, The Birth Project
Mark Seymour, Project Manager, The Sanctuary Refugee Welcome Group Newport
Lara Bundock, CEO, The Snowdrop Project
Leila Zadeh, Executive Director, UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group
Andrew Jackson , Chief Executive, Upbeat Communities
Marie Allainguillaume, Project Coordinator, Volunteers Together, Huddersfield
David McKenzie , Chair, Walking With, North Tyneside
Andrew Harwood, Project Manager and Chairman, Welcome Group Halesowen
Sean Gladwin, Director, West End Refugee Service
Andrew Rathbone, Chair of Trustees, West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network (WYDAN)
Dr. Kate Smith, Practitioner Manager, Women Centre Kirklees

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