Immigration Bill

Written evidence from the Refugee Council (IB 10)

About the Refugee Council:

The Refugee Council is a human rights charity, independent of government, working to ensure refugees are given the protection that they need, are treated with the respect and understanding that they are entitled to, and that they are assured the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as other members of society.

The Refugee Council gives advice to asylum seekers and refugees, most notably for adults relating to asylum support and to unaccompanied children on a range of issues relating to their protection and care. We provide support to refugees on integration matters, such as accessing housing, employment and education.


The Bill is wide ranging and covers many issues which will not affect people seeking asylum and refugees. However, the Refugee Council is extremely concerned that some of the measures contained in the Bill will have detrimental and unintended consequences, penalising asylum seekers and refugees who have a legal right to live in the UK. Refugees and asylum seekers came to the UK escaping persecution. It is our responsibility to offer protection and a place of safety, not to discriminate and to marginalise them further.

Part 3: Chapter 1, Residential Tenancies:

Recommendation to delete Chapter 1

We believe the proposals requiring landlords to check the immigration status of tenants are simply unworkable. Landlords are not immigration officials and the types of documentation carried by asylum seekers and refugees is varied and complex. These new measures will undoubtedly lead to wrongful denial of access to housing for those with a right to live in the UK, due to confusion about unfamiliar identity documents and fear of sanctions.

Being able to access decent and secure accommodation is a key foundation upon which refugees can start to rebuild their lives once they have been granted protection. Barriers already exist to the private rented sector for newly-granted refugees, as living on asylum support makes it extremely difficult for them to be able to save for a deposit, and they will not be able to access credit in the way that others may be able to. We anticipate that the introduction of these measures will further disadvantage this group for several reasons, for example:

· In many areas of the UK, there is much pressure on the private rented sector so competition for accommodation can be fierce. Most of those who have applied for asylum in the UK will be carrying the identity documents identified in the consultation document as requiring verification from the Home Office enquiry service. There is a real risk that private landlords will be unwilling to wait for the estimated six days for a response to their query when there may be many other potential tenants with easily recognisable documents.

· When a person is granted refugee status, they have to vacate their Home Office provided accommodation within 28 days. It is not unusual for people to experience delays in receiving the official documentation listed in the consultation document at that point, so they may find it difficult to prove their right to residence at a time when they are in desperate need of new accommodation within a very small window of time. We already see many refugees who become homeless at this point, having just been granted refugee status, and expect these proposals to compound the problem.

· Refugees and asylum seekers can carry a broad array of documents depending upon, for example, when they applied for and were granted asylum, and the type of leave they were granted. There may be times when refugees will not have any documentation as they have to send originals to the Home Office or other statutory authorities, such as: when they are renewing their leave at the end of the five year limited leave period they are granted when given refugee status, and; when applying for a travel document if the individual does not have a Biometric Residence Permit. If a potential landlord requests documents during these times, they may not believe that such a situation can occur and not check if there are valid reasons for people not having proof of their right to remain in the UK.

Part 3, Chapter 2, the National Health Service:

Recommendation to delete Clauses 33 and 34

We fundamentally object to Clauses 33 and 34. The powers they grant to the Secretary of State are wide ranging contain insufficient detail and safeguards in their current state.

We fear that if implemented, the related proposals in the Department of Health consultation on the restrictions to healthcare will result in some of the most vulnerable in our society being refused essential care, thereby inevitably undermining the principle of a system that does not increase inequalities. While we welcome the exemption of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking, we know from experience that this will not be sufficient to guarantee their access. Refugee Council clients already experience significant barriers to NHS care regardless of the fact they are, in the main, currently entitled to free care.

Recommendation to introduce a New Clause:

To make the support provided under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 the same type / level as section 95, while retaining the Home Secretary’s power to make distinct regulations for accessing this support.

A person whose asylum claim has been refused, but whom the Government accepts cannot be returned to their country of origin through no fault of their own, can access reduced support through section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This support provides £35.39 per week on an Azure card which can be used in limited shops for essential items. The administrational and bureaucratic cost of running this parallel support system is high and the Azure card system is seen as demeaning, inhumane and ineffective. Those moving from section 95 to section 4 support sometimes encounter difficulties caused solely by the bureaucracy of two support systems. One system of support where relevant criteria continue to exist would be simpler, reduce cost and minimise destitution for individuals. The Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent report on Asylum recommended that this ‘Section 4’ support be replaced with a better way forward:

82. We are not convinced that a separate support system for failed asylum seekers, whom the Government recognise as being unable to return to their country of origin, is necessary. The increasing period of time which asylum seekers have to wait for an initial decision suggests that staff resources could be better used by being allocated to asylum applications. Section 4 is not the solution for people who have been refused but cannot be returned and we call on the Government to find a better way forward. (Home Affairs Select Committee Report, Asylum, 11 th October 2013)

We propose introducing a New Clause to this Bill to create a single system of support for those in the asylum system or who satisfy the criteria for asylum support currently provided under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This would avoid the problems currently created by the movement of people from one type of asylum support to another and is likely to be more cost effective as well as efficient.

November 2013

Prepared 6th November 2013