THE UK Government’s focus on clearing the asylum application backlog quickly is putting thousands of refugees at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).
According to Home Office data, there were around 90,000 decisions on older cases forecast to be made before the end of December 2023. The pace and scale of the Home Office’s decision-making means that large numbers of people are already, and will continue turning to councils for support.
The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, said councils are also finding that despite efforts to improve the system, people do not have enough notice before they have to leave Home Office accommodation, and they are not being told far enough in advance the numbers of people needing to leave this accommodation to be able put plans in place. With street homelessness already increasing as a direct result, councils are concerned that local communities will see many more people rough sleeping over the Christmas period.
Whilst councils agree that it is right that people receive certainty on their asylum claim, a chronic shortage of available and affordable housing means that those leaving asylum accommodation will struggle to find homes to move to in the reduced time available. Councils do not receive any funding for people whose asylum claim has been granted and so as well as urgent funding to ensure the backlog clearance goes smoothly for claimants and their communities, councils also need long-term, sustainable funding across all programmes for all new arrivals.
These impacts come in addition to other pressures from across asylum and resettlement schemes. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, over 8,000 Ukrainian households have asked for housing support in England and councils only have until the end of December to move more than 1000 Afghans remaining in hotel accommodation. These pressures are further compounded by chronic housing shortages, the cost-of-living crisis and extreme funding shortages for councils.
Councils are already under significant financial pressures, with an acute shortage of temporary accommodation and huge pressures on homelessness services, with councils spending £1.74 billion to support 104,000 households in temporary accommodation in 2022/23, the highest figures since records began.
While the recent unfreezing of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates will be helpful, the rate to determine the subsidy for claims in respect of people living in temporary accommodation will not be uprated as the maximum subsidy remains capped at 90 per cent of the January 2011 rates. This will mean significant financial pressures will remain for councils.
The LGA has raised these concerns with the Minister of Immigration but has yet to receive a response.
On behalf of councils, the LGA is asking for:
- Urgent funding to help councils put in place local support to minimise risks of destitution, overcrowding and street homelessness.
- Making sure people have the full 28 days’ notice they have been promised before they have to leave Home Office accommodation.
- Shared information about how many cases each local authority will have to support, to help with local planning.
- A pause in asylum support cessations over the Christmas week and during extreme weather to reduce the risk of street homelessness.
- Urgently uprate the Local Housing Allowance rate that determines the subsidy available for temporary accommodation, which remains capped at 90 per cent of 2011 rates.
- A commitment to future resources for councils’ support for those waiting for decision on the claims as part of the Local Government Finance Settlement in the new year.
Cllr Shaun Davies, LGA Chair, said: “Councils work incredibly hard to support asylum and resettlement but are facing a perfect storm in the run up to Christmas which could see tens of thousands of refugees having to sleep rough.
“Demand for temporary accommodation is already at an all-time high with councils struggling to source suitable accommodation and cater for current needs. Pushing tens of thousands of refugees out of Home Office accommodation onto councils will overload the system and mean they simply cannot provide for these vulnerable people’s needs.
“The Government must provide councils with more funding both immediately for this programme and in the future for their ongoing support for refugees, alongside better data, to help councils protect and provide for refugees. Asylum seekers need as much notice as possible before they have to leave their accommodation so they have time to find work and a new place to live.”
* Source: Local Government Association