Home Affairs Committee

1. Summary

1.1. It is not right that anyone in the UK should be forced into homelessness.

1.2. The current asylum system causes destitution and homelessness among refused asylum seekers. Accomodation should be provided until an asylum seeker is granted leave to remain or is deported from the UK.

1.3. Section 4 causes homelessness and should be abolished.

1.4. Section 4 payment by Azure card requires additional administration and cost, and causes unnecessary emotional and physical difficulties for asylum seekers.

1.5. Asylum support are insufficient for basic living expenses and should be increased. The level of asylum support should be fixed as at least 70% of the level of mainstream benefits.

1.6. Giving Asylum Seekers the right to work while their case is being considered would aid integration and provide a secure foundation for those who granted leave to remain to restart their lives in the UK.

1.7. Asylum seekers granted leave to remain need more support and longer accommodation provision while the transition to mainstream jobs and benefits.

2. Background

2.1. Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network (LASSN) is a registered charity set up in 1999 to respond to the pressing unmet needs of refugees and asylum seekers living in Leeds. Most of our clients experience acute isolation, mental health issues, language difficulties and immense uncertainty over their asylum claim.

2.2. Each year over 200 local volunteers (including over 20 refugees and asylum seekers) give their time through our four volunteering projects: Befriending, English at Home, Short Stop offering short term respite accommodation to homeless asylum seekers, and a Press Gang linking media students with exiled journalists.

2.3. LASSN also set up the Leeds Hardship Fund, which provides emergency subsistence grants during winter to refused asylum seekers who are destitute.

2.4. LASSN supports around 700 asylum seekers and refugees each year. Our experience over the past twelve years has shown that the current asylum system is inadequate and often exasperates the difficulties faced by asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their own countries.

2.5. We welcome the opportunity to make a submission to the parliamentary inquiry. Although we would like to make comments on all aspects of the asylum system our limited capacity means we have restricted our comments to key points relating to two of the main issues identified by the Committee.

3. Factual information to consider in relation to theme 5 (Whether the system of support to asylum applicants is sufficient and effective and possible improvements) and theme 6 (The prevalence of destitution amongst asylum applicants and refused asylum seekers).

3.1. 163 asylum seekers and refugees in Leeds would have been made homeless in the year to April 2012 if it had not been for our volunteers providing emergency accommodation.

3.2. 2% of these were refused asylum seekers who had agreed to take voluntary return but were waiting for the arrangements to be completed.

3.3. 5% had been granted leave to remain but were made homeless because they had been evicted from their NAS accommodation before they were able to secure other accommodation.

3.4. 21% were asylum seekers who were waiting to hear about their application for Section 4 accommodation.

3.5. 28% were refused asylum seekers who were making a fresh claim or an appeal.

3.6. 56 refused asylum seekers in Leeds were destitute with insufficient money to clothe and feed themselves during the winter of 2011/12 and relied on grants from the Leeds Hardship Fund. The 56 also had 11 dependants.

4. Lessons drawn from on our experience

4.1. Section 4 accommodation causes homelessness. The two system approach with section 95 and section 4 creates complexity, extra administration and additional costs. For asylum seekers it is unsettling, confusing and disruptive. Many people end up homeless simply because of the change from section 95 to section 4.

4.2. The payment of section 4 support by Azure card that can only be used in certain shops makes it even more difficult for asylum seekers to manage as it prevents them from buying food at cheaper places, such as the market. It also means that asylum seekers have no money for travel or other situations where cash is required.

4.3. For some refused asylum seekers the pressure of homelessness on mental and physical health mean they are incapable of considering their long-term situation. Our experience shows that many homeless refused asylum seekers have legitimate reasons for appeal or have fresh evidence, which when presented results in their being granted leave to remain. Other homeless refused asylum seekers are only able to contemplate voluntary return once they are safely accommodated.

4.4. The current level of asylum support is not sufficient for basic living expenses. Many asylum seekers struggle with poverty and are unable to buy enough food, medicine, clothes, and toiletries or have money for essential travel and cleaning products.

4.5. The prohibition on asylum seekers working is counter-productive and wasteful, and makes it more difficult for asylum seekers to get employment if and when granted leave to remain—especially if that takes a long time. Most asylum seekers are keen to work and make a contribution—as evidenced by the number who do voluntary work of one sort of another.

4.6. After being granted leave to remain the transition from asylum seeker to refugee is often difficult and traumatic. The newly granted refugee has to contend with changes to support, housing, employment and education. The difficulties of managing these changes is exasperated by the immediate arrival of an eviction notice and having just 28 days to find alternative accommodation.

4.7. In addition when people are granted leave to remain, there is a gap of around two weeks or more between section 4 or Section 95 support ending and the first receipt of mainstream benefit allowance which are paid in arrears and because of the time taken to process claims. This can cause significant problems; and it is likely to be made worse by the abolition of the Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans.

5. Recommendations

5.1. Accomodation for asylum seekers should be provided until the person is either granted leave to remain or is deported from the UK.

5.2. Section 4 accommodation should be abolished and all accommodation provided under one system.

5.3. Section 4 support payments by Azure card should be abolished and all payments be made under one cash-based system.

5.4. Asylum support levels should be fixed as at least 70% of the level of mainstream benefits.

5.5. Asylum seekers should be given the right to work while waiting for a decision on their asylum claim.

5.6. When someone is given leave to remain they should be given longer before being evicted. 28 days is insufficient for them to manage the transition.

5.7. Asylum support should continue until the first payment of mainstream benefits.

Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network

April 2013

Prepared 11th October 2013