• Press release

Hundreds of refugees sleeping rough in London amid ‘dramatic spike’ in homelessness

Hundreds of refugees are sleeping rough in the capital after leaving Home Office hotels, according to new research from London Councils.

A survey organised by the cross-party group found 311 refugees were forced to sleep rough after eviction from Home Office accommodation in January 2024. This marks an increase of 234% compared to September 2023, when London Councils began its survey work and found 93 sleeping on the streets of the capital.

In total, 1,087 refugees approached London homelessness services for help in January following Home Office evictions, a rise of 78% in the four months since September. This includes those rough sleeping but also those who were ‘hidden homeless’ – for example, sleeping on the floor of someone still accommodated in a Home Office hotel, or in a church, or elsewhere off the streets. 

The data shows that when London’s severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) was activated in response to temperatures plummeting in January, 242 (20%) of the 1,284 rough sleepers placed in emergency accommodation were refugees previously housed by the Home Office. SWEP is triggered when weather conditions pose a threat to life. 

London Councils, which represents all 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation, anticipates rough sleeping among refugees will continue to increase as the government ramps up the number of asylum decisions it makes and reduces its use of hotels. 

The group’s survey suggests the vast majority of those rough sleeping after leaving Home Office accommodation have received a positive asylum decision – over 90%. Once a decision is made and a Biometric Residence Permit card has been issued, refugees have 28 days to leave Home Office accommodation. Boroughs say this is insufficient time for refugees to find work and housing – especially since many have experienced trauma and face language barriers. 

Recent government data revealed spiralling levels of all rough sleeping across London, with last year seeing a 32% jump in the number of people sleeping rough in the capital. Rough sleeping has gone up across England but London is experiencing the largest increase.   

Cllr Grace Williams, London Councils’ lead for asylum and refugees, said: 

“The dramatic spike in refugees rough sleeping in the capital is deeply alarming.

“No one wants to see refugees become homeless after leaving Home Office accommodation, but this is happening more and more due to serious flaws in the system and the government’s approach to the issue. A longer move-on period for those leaving Home Office accommodation is crucial, as well as funding for the councils whose local services provide vital support and sanctuary for those in need.

“London is already grappling with a severe homelessness crisis. Rough sleeping among refugees puts extra pressure on already-stretched local services, but much more could be done to prevent it occurring in the first place. We are urging the government to listen to boroughs’ concerns and work with us in tackling this challenge.”

London Councils’ research was supported by many voluntary sector organisations who work alongside boroughs in organising local homelessness services.

Among its policy priorities for preventing rough sleeping and homelessness, London Councils is calling on the government to:

Commit to a 56-day ‘move-on period’ for refugees and asylum-seekers leaving Home Office accommodation, so local authorities have more time to assist with housing arrangements and reduce the risk of homelessness. 

Expand the eligibility for Local Authority Housing Fund properties to include newly recognised refugees. The Local Authority Housing Fund is a welcome and successful scheme for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. The government should broaden the scheme to include other newly recognised refugees facing or at risk of homelessness.

Recognise asylum accommodation as supported accommodation. This would mean refugees under the age of 35 could access privately rented accommodation at the higher ‘self-contained’ Local Housing Allowance rate. Local Housing Allowance goes to eligible households as part of housing benefit or Universal Credit payment to cover private rented sector housing costs. Currently, for refugees under 35 Local Housing Allowance entitlement is capped at the lower ‘shared accommodation’ rate. This is a key driver in homelessness for refugees and asylum-seekers under 35, as it places the vast majority of privately rented properties out of reach.

Enhance Homelessness Prevention grant funding to support those who are at risk of rough sleeping, but who are not eligible for assistance under the Homelessness Reduction Act/Housing Act legislation.

Bring forward a cross-departmental strategy to reduce homelessness. Tackling homelessness must become a major priority at a national level with government departments working together – in addition to key partners such as local authorities – as effectively as possible.

 

ENDS

 

Notes to editors:

[1] In the autumn of 2023, London Councils begun regular surveys of all 33 local authorities in the capital to assess the number of National Asylum Support Service (NASS) leavers presenting as homeless. 

The survey seeks both to capture data about refugees and asylum-seekers presenting as homeless to local authority services and those contacting outreach teams or day centres (including those provided by voluntary sector organisations) while already rough sleeping on the streets of London.

NASS is part of the Home Office and administers financial and accommodation arrangements for asylum-seekers while their cases are considered. Once a case is closed, the asylum-seeker must leave NASS-provided accommodation, such as hotels.

The number of presentations captured in London Councils’ survey is much higher than the CHAIN figure of around 140 people who slept rough in January after leaving NASS accommodation. The difference is due to CHAIN being a data platform used by outreach teams only to record contacts with bedded-down rough sleepers and missing those who are sleeping in hidden places or on sofas or hotel room floors. 

Despite this, by way of illustrating the increased numbers, CHAIN recorded much fewer people as sleeping rough after leaving NASS accommodation in the month of July (11) and August (45).  

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