A change in Home Office policy has sparked a sharp rise in the number of refugees sleeping rough across the UK, especially in the capital. Whereas in July, only 11 people who had recently been granted asylum were sleeping on the streets, this figure has since increased to over 800. Charities have reported that refugees are getting far less time to leave state-provided accommodation after the acceptance of their refugee status. In some cases, the documentation processing reduced the notice period from 28 to just seven days. Charities, including the Red Cross, have warned that the apparent policy change could lead to 50,000 refugees on the streets.
An October website report on the Red Cross website highlights the impact of “changes to the move-on process”, introduced in August. Since then, Red Cross caseworkers have seen the number of people requiring basics like sleeping bags and tents multiply. The charity estimates that the government’s promise to have all pre-June 2022 asylum applications processed by the end of this year will make around 50,000 refugees homeless.
Previously, the government allowed refugees with an accepted asylum status 28 days to leave state-provided asylum seeker accommodation and set up their own home, with charities campaigning for this period to be extended to 56 days. The 28-day period started on receipt of the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). However, since this summer, the countdown begins when asylum seekers receive a letter informing them of the acceptance of their refugee status. Issuing the BRP can take weeks, leaving many refugees in limbo. They need a BRP to access Universal Credit, secure a job, and enrol their children into school.
In October, the Red Cross reported that some of its caseworkers encountered refugees who only had seven days to leave refugee shelters and set up a home, which, to anyone’s mind, is not enough.
Charities appeal to the public to accommodate refugees
In response to the growing number of refugees sleeping rough, charity Refugees at Home has issued an appeal to the public for accommodation. The organisation matches people who need accommodation with people with a spare room in their house. Since its establishment in 2016, Refugees at Home has found accommodation for more than 5,000 refugees from 75 countries.
Speaking to Sky News, Refugees at Hoem Executive director Carly Whyborn said:
“Charities like us are stretched beyond our limits trying to help refugees who are being turfed out at short notice and are facing winter on the streets.
“Three times more people are coming to us for help this year compared to last year. We had 204 referrals in October alone, compared to 69 in October 2022.”
With rising numbers due to the Home Office notice period change, the true numbers may be considerably higher. Tom Copley, London’s deputy mayor for housing, fears hidden homelessness among refugees:
“There are going to be other people who are what we call hidden homeless. They may end up sleeping on sofas with friends or other forms of accommodation we’re not aware of.
“And the really tragic thing is this is all really avoidable if the government were just to change some of their policies, like giving a longer notice period, for example.”
Charities and London Mayor call for 56-day notice period
The Red Cross and Refugees at Home, alongside Sadiq Khan, have called on the government to increase the notice period to 56 days. Such a grace period would allow refugees time to find work and accommodation.
In response, the Home Office told Sky News:
“Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days’ notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.
“Support is offered to newly recognised refugees by Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access the Universal Credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing.
“We work with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions.”