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 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, is coming to an end in September 2019.
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’.
It was announced in January 2019 that the AASC contract has been awarded to Clearsprings, the current COMPASS provider. The AIRE contract has been awarded to Migrant Help. There is now a transition to the new contracts before they come into force in September 2019.
- Potential Opportunities
The specifications for the new asylum contracts place greater emphasis upon collaboration with local authorities and the third sector. They also reiterate some significant requirements within the COMPASS contract which some boroughs report are not currently being adequately fulfilled.
While Clearsprings will continue to provide asylum accommodation, the new contracts represent an opportunity to ensure that the Home Office and Providers enter into a more productive relationship with local authorities and London boroughs in particular. The historically low numbers of dispersals in London has meant that relationships with contractors have been comparatively under-developed.
- Potential Risks
The risks for local authorities in the transition are lower than they would have been if the provider of asylum accommodation was changing. There are, nevertheless, potential risks that may need to be managed. Due to some changes in the specification of standards, the new contracts could result in the movement of asylum seekers from between different accommodation units and from one local authority to another. This could result in shifts in the demand for school places and other services and may entail reputational risks where safeguarding concerns are known to local authorities. There are also potential political and community cohesion risks, especially in those outer London boroughs with more limited experience of migrant populations.
In addition, local authorities will need to approve any new properties which Clearsprings may wish to use in London.
London Councils is currently engaging with the Home Office on multiple levels to mitigate the impact of asylum dispersal in the capital upon local government. We will be in dialogue with the boroughs over the next year to help ensure they are well placed to respond to the transition to the new contracts. And we hope to embed a new framework for local government to engage in strategic conversations with the Home Office and the Providers, and to escalate problems as they arise.
If local authorities have concerns that you would wish London Councils to raise over the next year, please be in touch with Mark Winterburn, Principal Policy and Project Officer [email protected]