In early April 2023, our blog updated you on key policy changes announced by government in relation to asylum seekers and refugees that could affect homelessness services and the people you support. Since April, the landscape for asylum seekers and refugees has continued to change as policies such as the Illegal Migration Act, Afghan bridging accommodation exit, and streamlined asylum processing model have been introduced, implemented, amended, or ceased.
You may already be aware of some of these changes as news cycles have kept us informed about the latest announcements from government. Many services are apprehensive about the possible impact of these announcements. While a lot of the policies will undoubtedly impact migrants, we do not anticipate that they will have an immediate impact on homelessness services.
As such, we have unpacked the policies which could affect your services in the short term. We know how important it is to keep informed about what may be coming and we will keep you updated when any further changes are made.
Unpacking policies that are or may impact your services
Extension of streamlined asylum processing
In April, we wrote about the introduction of the Home Office's ‘streamlined asylum processing’ model to address the backlog of asylum claims. Shortly after this announcement, the Home Office sent around 12,000 questionnaires to people from Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Eritrea who applied for asylum before June 2022. The Home Office intended to reduce the backlog of asylum claims by requiring the people who received a questionnaire to complete it rather than attend an interview before an asylum decision was made.
The Home Office has subsequently announced that the processing model would also apply to asylum applications made by applicants from Iraq, Iran and Sudan who claimed asylum before 28 June 2022. Despite the Home Office's intention to forgo interviews, guidance shows asylum seekers who have not provided enough information, or returned questionnaires may be called to an interview. However, this will be on a case-by-case basis.
We continue to be concerned that the processing model does not account for vulnerable individuals who may be homeless, experiencing mental health problems or trauma, or those who may not speak English into account. By continuing to send questionnaires and requiring people in vulnerable positions to complete a complex set of questions in a language they may not know, the Home Office have again failed to acknowledge this issue.
The processing model also continues to concern us as the Home Office have not addressed the issue of asylum seekers who are homeless or without a fixed abode. Extending the processing model to more nationalities has increased the risk that more people experiencing homelessness will have undetermined status as they will not receive or know about questionnaires.
If you are supporting asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan who have received a questionnaire, you may find the following resources developed by the Refugee Council, Right to Remain, and Refugee Action helpful.
End Afghan Bridging support
In March 2023 the Government announced the closure of bridging hotels where Afghan nationals who arrived in the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy had been accommodated. The Government also announced that refugees would be offered accommodation and three months’ notice of hotel closures.
The Government subsequently announced that not all refugees would receive an offer of accommodation, rather, the Home Office “expect guests to take steps to find accommodation that they can afford”. In addition, the responsibility for assisting Afghan refugees to find accommodation was given to local authorities.
This update has been very concerning as we know in most local authority areas the lack of affordable housing, both social and private rented is already a challenge and a driving pressure on people experiencing homelessness.
Afghan refugees are entitled to statutory support, including benefits, and we know that local authorities have been working hard to try and support people to find their own housing before they are evicted from hotel accommodation. However, we know that some people will fall through the gaps of support and leave their bridging hotel with nowhere to go.
Local authorities are committed to supporting this group and local connection does not apply so if anyone from an Afghan bridging hotel does access your service for support, please signpost them to Housing Options.
End of service of EUSS 28-day notice
The Home Office notified organisations that from 12 July 2023, it will stop serving 28-day notices to EU nationals. 28-day notices were served by enforcement officers to EU nationals they encountered without legal immigration status. The notices urged EU nationals to urgently make an application under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
The original deadline for EU nationals applying under the EUSS was 30 June 2021. But EU nationals without legal status have been able to continue to apply under the scheme. Since the deadline, Home Office guidance shows that a flexible approach to accepting late applications will be taken.
We don’t know how long the Home Office will continue to process late applications, however, a recent announcement releases new funding until spring 2025 to 17 organisations across the UK to support vulnerable people to apply for the EUSS. If you are working with an EU national with unknown or unsettled status, you can view this guidance which explains the eligibility criteria and how an application can be made.
Preview of upcoming policies that may affect you in the near future
Despite fierce opposition and campaigning, on 20 July 2023 the Illegal Migration Act became law.
Although we know the Act will heavily restrict people who enter the UK by “irregular means” from accessing the asylum system, we don’t currently know how it will be implemented. We are concerned however that it will create a new population of people who are destitute by default, and therefore at higher risk of becoming homeless. We will keep you updated on announcements made about the application of the Act and other relevant policies affecting asylum seekers and refugees.
What next for services?
We understand that the government's restrictive policies have left asylum seekers and refugees feeling hopeless and created an incredibly difficult environment for services to operate in. Although you may feel like your services are the only remaining support for this vulnerable group, the support you provide is immeasurable. Our call remains the same. Please continue to…
- be empathetic, respectful and promote a culture of welcome when supporting migrants,
- keep up to date with migrant services in your area and signpost people to these services (useful links: NACCOM, Migrant Help, Praxis and Refugee Council),
- read our roadmap report to find out what your local authority (LA) should be doing to support asylum seekers, refugees, and those with undetermined status,
- hold to account and influence your local authority to make changes,
- help us to influence government by letting us know how policy changes are impacting your services and the people you support.