What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?
‘Asylum seeker’ means a person who has applied for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees on the grounds that they have a well-founded fear of persecution should they return to their home country.
‘Refugee’ means an asylum seeker whose claim has been successful.
Who are London’s asylum seekers and where are they?
There are currently 5,152 asylum seekers in London. The most common countries of origin are Albania (919), Pakistan (483), Nigeria (448), Iran (351) and Afghanistan (306).
Most asylum seekers are unable to pay for their own housing. They are also unable to claim benefits. They are therefore provided with housing (dispersed accommodation) by the Home Office via contracts with Serco, G4S and Clearsprings Group. Asylum dispersal accommodation in London is provided by Clearsprings Group. Under this scheme, asylum seekers are not able to choose where they live.
London has historically had relatively low numbers of asylum seekers in dispersed accommodation. This is no longer the case. In the last three years, the number has more than quadrupled: from a low of 771 in Q3 2015, to 3,793 in Q2 2018. Dispersal accommodation is highly concentrated in a few local authorities, notably Barking and Dagenham (658) and Redbridge (700).
What are London local authorities doing to support asylum seekers and newly recognised refugees?
Local authorities support asylum seekers directly or indirectly in a range of ways, from carrying out property inspections to providing adult social care. However, the most substantial area of support often arises when asylum seekers are asked to move on from Home Office provided dispersed accommodation.
Once an asylum seeker receives a decision on their asylum application, there is just 28 days until they have to leave their dispersed accommodation. This leaves little time to find alternative accommodation, obtain a National Insurance number, find work, or establish a welfare benefits claim. They also usually lack the basic requirement to gain a tenancy in the private rented sector: a deposit. Local authorities in London are therefore playing a significant role in preventing homelessness amongst newly recognised refugees, and financially supporting them to attain a tenancy.
What is the future for asylum seeker support in London?
COMPASS, the current contract for asylum accommodation and support providers (including Clearsprings), is coming to an end in September 2019. New contracts will be awarded in November and December 2018. The functions of the COMPASS contract will be split in two: AASC (Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts) and AIRE (the Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility contract). There will be one AIRE provider for the whole of the country. The AASC contracts will be regional – London will be a part of the ‘South’. There will be a transition between November/December 2018 and when the actual new providers take on the provision of services in December 2019.
There are potential risks in the transition to the new contracts, as large numbers of vulnerable people are transferred from one provider to another. But the transition is also an opportunity to secure improvements to how refugees are moved on from asylum dispersal accommodation.
London Councils is alert to the challenges and opportunities which will arise in the next year. This page will be updated as more is revealed by the Government about the new contracts.