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 at least 5630 asylum seekers in London. The most common countries of origin are Albania (1124), Nigeria (465), Iran (423), Pakistan (384) and Iraq (369).
Most asylum seekers are unable to pay for their own housing. They are also unable to claim benefits. They are therefore provided with housing (initial and dispersed accommodation) by the Home Office via contracts with Serco, Mears Group and Clearsprings Read Homes. Asylum dispersal accommodation in London is provided by Clearsprings. 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 4397 in Q1 2019. Dispersal accommodation is especially concentrated in Barking and Dagenham (734), Redbridge (640), Newham (582), Hillingdon (456), and Ealing (386).
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 changes have been happening with asylum accommodation and support in London?
In January 2019, it was announced that the contract for providing accommodation for asylum seekers for the next 10 years, AASC (Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contract), had been awarded to Clearsprings in London. This was the existing COMPASS accommodation provider in London.
Clearsprings transferred service users over to provision under the AASC requirements in London on 15 July 2019. There are some higher standards under the AASC contract that the old COMPASS one. Additionally:
- In London, Clearsprings has been using subcontractors to procure and manage properties. Clearsprings are transitioning to a new business model: while still using subcontractors to provide properties, they will manage properties and relationships with service users directly, and take a greater responsibility for ensuring repairs are completed
- Under the new AASC contract, properties are not exempt from selective licensing schemes.
A new AIRE (the Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility) contract has also been awarded to Migrant Help. Migrant Help have previously been providing a more limited form of advice and guidance support to asylum seekers under a separate contract with the Home Office.
Migrant Help began in July 2019 to provide services under AIRE in London. Some asylum seekers choose to only receive subsistence payments and not accommodation support from the Home Office (1233 in London); this service is available to them too.
The AIRE service provides advice and guidance to service users on the asylum process and their rights, and signposts to different services. It provides asylum seekers with a single point of contact, independent from the accommodation providers and the Home Office, to report issues. Key features of the new support include:
- A single point of contact. Service users can contact via telephone, email and webchat. Translators are available
- An online hub for asylum seekers to access their records and complete applications
- Face to face outreach support for vulnerable service users
- More intensive move-on support after asylum seekers get a decision on their application
- Positive decision move-on support is provided by Reed in Partnership, who Migrant Help have subcontracted. They refer service users to various agencies, including a named housing officer within the relevant local authority housing team.
- Negative decision move-on support is handled by Migrant Help in-house.
London Councils has been engaging extensively with the Home Office and the providers to ensure improvements are made to policy and practice. We will continue to do so in the coming months and years.