111.Local authorities, third sector organisations and Providers have all raised concerns with us about the end of the asylum application process. Under the current system, once an asylum seeker receives a positive decision on their application, they have 28 days to secure housing and a means to support themselves before their entitlements under Section 95 are stopped. However, they face multiple bureaucratic hurdles. We heard that there were often delays in refugees receiving their Biometric Residence Permit and National Insurance numbers which are essential for accessing benefits and the job market; that advice and signposting were inadequate; and that local authorities were not immediately being notified when people in their area had been granted asylum and were therefore unprepared to provide support. According to the Refugee Council, such problems can leave people facing destitution. We note that in a report on benefit delivery published in December 2015, the Work and Pensions Committee questioned “why the ‘move-on’ period for new refugees is only 28 days, when it is clear from research conducted by charities and the Government that it is in many cases insufficient”.
112.In relation to certain asylum seekers on whose claims a decision has been made, Rupert Soames of Serco felt that Providers were being faced with an impossible dilemma; either to “evict people who have no alternative provision, or continue to pay at our expense for their accommodation, rates and utilities.” He told us in April that Serco was then housing 137 people whom the Home Office had stopped funding, at an annual cost of £5,000. The longest over-stayer had been in Serco accommodation for over two years. Many of these people would be tied to accommodation in that area due to welfare considerations or may have children at school. Mr Soames admitted that in a tiny number of cases where there were no welfare considerations and the individual was refusing to leave then the locks on the property would be changed while the person was out. Third sector organisations told us that, in these circumstances, people often had difficulties reclaiming their possessions.
113.The Government is currently reviewing the 28–day grace period for people granted refugee status and the Department of Work and Pensions’ ability to manage applications for support from people transferring out of the asylum system. The evidence we have received demonstrates to us that a 28–day period is not sufficient to enable a smooth transition from asylum seeker to refugee status, and we recommend that the period be extended.
114.There has been a reduction in move-on support with the introduction of the COMPASS contracts. In 2011 the Government abolished the Refugee Integration and Employment Service. This was designed to help people transfer out of the asylum system once they had been given refugee status. Leeds City Council told us that the integration of refugees through the system has been de-prioritised, and urged a rethink to enable successful integration, while Chris Shipman of the sub-contractor Orchard & Shipman called for appropriate funding and mechanisms to deal with the end of the process.
115.Support is available to refugees who arrive in the UK via specific schemes such as the Syrian VPR Programme. Under such schemes individuals are provided with housing and specialist support to help them access education, the job market and mainstream services. A ‘fast track’ system is available for Syrians resettled through the VPRP, to allocate an NI number and ensure benefits are paid as swiftly as possible. Additional funding is also provided to facilitate extra help within schools and reflect the challenges that delivering to a vulnerable client group brings. Middlesbrough Council told us that “the assumption that asylum seeker children come with any less needs is one we would seek to challenge.” Leeds City Council argued that, where support existed for refugees, it had proved effective at helping their integration into society.
116.The introduction of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme means that the UK now has a system which differentiates between refugees in terms of the services they receive based on the country of origin and the process through which they arrived in the country. We believe that this is inappropriate and that the same support should be available for refugees who transfer from the asylum system as those who arrive under a resettlement programme. Schemes like the Syrian programme and bespoke council-run services are extremely successful, including in contributing to integration, which is critical for social cohesion, successful re-settlement and entering the employment market. The challenge for the Government is now to bring the level of support available to all refugees up to the standard set by the Syrian scheme, with the prospective benefits of a reduction in overall costs through reduced reliance on welfare and other support services. The Government should introduce a service along the lines of the discontinued Refugee Integration and Employment Service, or other models currently in operation in some parts of the UK, as part of this improvement.
152 Middlesbrough Council (); Refugee Council (), , February 2015
153 Refugee Council, , February 2015; Refugee Council, , May 2014
154 Work and Pensions Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2015–16, , , HC 372
155 Letter from Rupert Soames OBE, Chief Executive, Serco Group Plc, to the Chair of the Committee, 6 April 2016 ()
156 Letter from Rupert Soames OBE, Chief Executive, Serco Group Plc, to the Chair of the Committee, 6 April 2016 ()
157 Leeds City Council () ; Q280
158 Welsh Refugee Coalition ()
159 Leeds City Council (), Middlesbrough Council ()
24 January 2017