PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), set up in 2003, is a longstanding anti-destitution project. Based in Harehills, Leeds, they respond to the needs of people experiencing poverty, destitution and homelessness following a final, negative decision on their asylum claim as well as other vulnerable migrants.
Many PAFRAS clients are unable to meet their essential needs for shelter, food and clothing; living so precariously compounds with previous trauma and impacts upon their physical and mental wellbeing. They are at increased risk of exploitation and the ongoing threat of detention and deportation hangs over them.
PAFRAS meet the essential needs of their clients by providing food and access to accommodation, they also respond to their emotional and physical health and wellbeing. They stabilise the situation, and provide person-centred, tiered advice and casework to de-escalate the crisis and support their clients to find sustainable routes out of destitution and homelessness. The combination of these elements is what makes PAFRAS stand out.
“You cannot have the evidence while you are homeless or in a house you have to keep moving, so they will give you money to look after yourself and then PAFRAS can deliver food… for me it was the biggest game changer because there was food. You could cook for yourself. You could dream.” – PAFRAS Service User
Collaboration is key. PAFRAS partner with services and agencies across Leeds and perform an active and leading role within local, regional and national sector networks.
Refugee Action enjoy a successful partnership with PAFRAS having worked with them on our Frontline Immigration Advice Project (FIAP) and the Asylum Early Action Programme. FIAP builds organisations’ capacity by providing training in immigration law at OISC Levels 1 and 2; assessment study support; guidance throughout OISC registration process; Continuous Professional Development; sessions to help unregistered organisations work within legal boundaries; and needs assessments and advice model development.
Laurie Ray, Senior Caseworker explains why PAFRAS decided to qualify and register with the OISC and their involvement with FIAP: “PAFRAS decided that we wanted to develop the capacity to provide regulated advice to our service users because of the gaps in provision in Leeds and surrounding areas. It has always been hard to persuade immigration lawyers to take on further submissions cases because they are so much more challenging and time consuming that initial claims.
The heart of the problem is that it’s often very difficult for a lawyer to determine whether there is enough merit in pursuing the cases without doing quite a lot of work, which may turn out to be unpaid, if there wasn’t enough merit after all. Added to this, without our own legal expertise it has been difficult to understand whether a service user’s case may or may not have merit. This leads to a lot of blind referral making, which can waste lawyer’s time without achieving anything for our service user.
In developing our own legal expertise PAFRAS is not trying to duplicate legal aid provision or the services provided locally by the Manuel Bravo Project or local Citizens Advice Bureau (which provides immigration advice to local people free at the point of use). Our aim is to develop a capacity to assist our service users to prepare their cases to be referred to legal aid lawyers. In practice this means understanding their cases and what went wrong the first time around; identifying evidence which may help to establish the truth of their claim; and organising old and new information into a more attractive package for a legal aid lawyer.
PAFRAS joined FIAP in 2016 and over three years, six PAFRAS staff have undergone the training. All six have completed OISC Level 1 Immigration, with four passing their assessments on first attempt; three completed OISC Level 1 Asylum, with three so far passing the exam; two staff members have trained and registered at OISC Level 2 Asylum; and then trained at OISC Level 2 Immigration with one becoming qualified so far. Staff have also taken up the additional support of refresher sessions and workshops.
Having a casework team who are qualified to level 1 is important because it helps the team to clearly understand the boundaries of what advice and services they are able to provide. Additionally it means that workers are able to assist with some simple applications for their clients, rather than referring elsewhere. These include applications for a change of conditions (e.g. lifting a no-recourse to public funds condition); applications for the destitute domestic violence concession and applications for registration of birth children. Being qualified to level one also enables the team to make applications for Exceptional Case Funding.”
Core partner on Asylum Early Action programme
PAFRAS have always recognised that, “urgent humanitarian aid can only be of limited help in the long term”. They have used their early action grant to extend their preventative approach, take advantage of their OISC registration and utilise the staff team’s qualifications and skills by developing a new service delivery model.
The new model sees the introduction of Casework Volunteers to build capacity at the initial assessment stage and ensure early referrals to the integrated Mental Health Assessment and Support Workers. The Destitution Caseworkers provide critical, specialist advice and advocacy for asylum seekers on their options for accessing accommodation and support. Building on their FIAP training, Caseworkers have completed the Pre-Action Protocol training with Deighton Pearce Glynn solicitors, significantly increasing the team’s capacity and confidence to assist destitute individuals. The Senior Caseworker qualified at OISC Level 2, adds the third-tier of regulated legal advice to the model.
In response to the needs of a growing number of young migrants aged 16-24 accessing their destitution project, PAFRAS launched Young Migrants Matter a new preventative project in 2018. Through outreach, in-office and activity based support they provide immigration/destitution casework and offer holistic and practical support to keep migrants safe.
“So it’s through that I had a vast amount of information. I had somebody to get me along the way. I had people I could stop and say, “Okay, stop. Where are we? What is happening?” So it’s through that helping you, encouraging you to take from one step to another” – PAFRAS Service User
While continuing to run their much-valued drop-in, they have successfully shifted considerable amount of casework away from drop-in and into appointments at their offices, at outreach settings and with specific groups such as women and young people, rebalancing efforts away from reactive service delivery to build capacity for in-depth, sustainable outcomes for their clients.
Challenges to implementing model
As many organisations attempting to rebalance their services and move away from responding to crisis to prevention find; adapting to the new model has not been without its challenges. Since a high number of service users arrive in crisis at the weekly drop-in and with limited capacity across the small team, it has taken longer than hoped to get to point where the Senior Caseworker is no longer providing destitution casework and concentrating solely on delivering regulated legal advice.
“There have been a number of barriers to implementing the model, many of which were expected (such as turnover of volunteer advisers) and some of which were perhaps less well anticipated, for example the amount of time it would take to implement the new model and the impact of that on the senior caseworker’s ability to provide legal services. An additional barrier has been the lack of sufficient numbers of highly skilled interpreters to enable us to do regulated work with some clients.
“We anticipate that as we gain experience of using volunteer advisers and become more expert at recruiting and training them, some of these barriers will ease. Likewise, we hope that as the new model beds-in more of the Senior Caseworker’s time will be freed up to provide legal services.”
Karen Pearce joined PAFRAS as Director in May: “I am honoured to be working with a wonderful team at such an amazing charity. Our approach, involving service users at every level, is amazing. We are currently reviewing our strategic plan and will be focusing on Early Action and destitution, mental health and wellbeing and communications and influence. I am super excited to be leading the charity in this exciting phase.”