• Press release

Boroughs warn of rising refugee homelessness amid ‘dangerous winter conditions’

A growing number of refugees are ending up homeless on the streets of the capital after leaving Home Office accommodation, according to new research from London Councils.

The cross-party group reports 846 homelessness presentations were made in October from refugees and asylum-seekers evicted from Home Office accommodation such as hotels. This represents a 39% increase on September’s figure [1].

Boroughs anticipate these numbers will rise even further over the coming months as the government continues ramping up the number of asylum decisions and works to close several hotels by the new year.

Boroughs are struggling with a severe shortage of accommodation. Many report having nothing to offer refugees who are sleeping rough – such as places in hostels or other forms of emergency accommodation. This is exacerbated by the Home Office providing no funding to local authorities to support asylum-seekers in hotels since April this year.

With winter setting in, boroughs fear a spike in rough sleeping just as conditions on the streets become even more dangerous.

London’s severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) was activated six times last winter, with around 2,000 placements made at short notice to help rough sleepers get off the streets. For the first time, accommodation shortages were so extreme that boroughs’ resilience teams were required to assist homelessness staff and volunteers in setting up rest centres across the capital

SWEP was already triggered last week and boroughs fear how services will cope should there be a repeat of last winter’s weather conditions.

Cllr Grace Williams, London Councils’ Executive Member for Communities, said:

“No one wants to see refugees becoming homeless after leaving Home Office accommodation, but this is happening at an alarming rate across the capital.

“Boroughs are deeply concerned by the situation, which will only get more dangerous as winter sets in. Those granted asylum need adequate support for settling in the UK, yet too often are forced into sleeping rough on the streets.

“At a time when London already faces enormous and unsustainable homelessness pressures, the government urgently needs to prevent this happening. 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 boroughs are committed to preventing homelessness. The government must work more closely with councils in addressing this growing challenge.”

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

Kathy Mohan, Chief Executive of Housing Justice, said:

“The situation is desperate. The churches, mosques, and temples in our network are seeing rising numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers approaching them for help, asylum decision letter in hand, with nowhere to sleep, and no idea how to get the support they need. We help where we can but many are resorting to rough sleeping.

“In the coming weeks we will be setting up a new supported lodgings scheme for refugees leaving Home Office accommodation with a positive decision, funded as a pilot by 14 London boroughs. It’s not enough, but it’s something. If we can make it work, we might be able to scale it up further.”

London Councils is calling on the government to:

  • Ensure a minimum 28-day notice period between an asylum-seeker  receiving both their asylum decision and Biometric Residence Permit and being required to leave Home Office accommodation. Currently, many are only receiving a few days’ notice after receiving a Notice to Vacate letter.  
  • Extend the move-on period to 56-days to align with the Homelessness Reduction Act and to give local authorities a meaningful period to mitigate homelessness risks.
  • Address SWEP pressures and concerns. Councils do not receive any specific funding from the government for SWEP activity. Boroughs’ homelessness and rough sleeping budgets already face intense pressures and government funding for SWEP would help sustain provision. Boroughs additionally call for a halt to cessations of asylum support and evictions during the whole period of any SWEP activations.
  • Fund a local wraparound support model that can be rolled out in all boroughs. This would include quick and early support, including facilitating access to employment and/or to Universal Credit, language support, and assessments of physical and mental health needs.
  • Enhance Rough Sleeping 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 or Housing Act.

While it is positive that applicants are receiving decisions on their asylum cases, boroughs reiterate the need to ensure adequate housing arrangements are in place and that the Home Office works closely with councils to avoid refugees and asylum-seekers becoming homeless.

London Councils says closer co-ordination between the Home Office and local authorities is essential for securing appropriate housing, preventing homelessness, and ensuring those granted asylum have the best opportunity to settle in the UK.




Notes to editors:

[1] London Councils has begun surveying 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 single people presenting as homeless to local authority services and people contacting outreach teams or day centres (including those provided by voluntary sector organisations) who are 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.

London Councils’ survey found 609 homelessness presentations from NASS leavers to services across the capital in September 2023.

This grew to 846 presentations in October – an increase of 39%.

The figures included people who were currently rough sleeping and people who had left NASS accommodation but were hidden homeless (e.g. sleeping on the floor of someone still accommodated in a Home Office-arranged hotel, or in a church, or elsewhere).   

The number of presentations captured in this survey is much higher than the CHAIN figure of c.100 people who slept rough in both September and October after leaving NASS accommodation. The difference relates to the fact that CHAIN is a data platform used by outreach teams only to record contacts with bedded-down rough sleepers and it misses those who are sleeping in hidden places or sleeping on sofas or hotel room floors as outlined above.

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).

[2] Housing Justice is a national charity that supports and represents churches, faith groups and community groups in the work they do with homeless people, making a difference to the lives of thousands of homeless people and rough sleepers every year.

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