Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are children and young people who are seeking asylum in the UK but who have been separated from their parents or carers. While their claim is processed, they are cared for by a local authority.
London boroughs are making a huge contribution in taking care of UASC. London continues to have the highest proportion of UASC in the UK by a considerable margin; the number of UASC across London has increased to 1606 at 31st December (based on most recent submissions by local authorities to the London Asylum Seekers Consortium, LASC).
Arrival in the UK
UASC are arriving in the UK by different means:
- Spontaneous Arrivals – most UASC arrive in the UK by their own means and are encountered at their port of entry, at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, or are otherwise encountered by police/social services. The local authority in which the child first presents is normally responsible for their care. This has put disproportionate pressure on some local authorities such as Kent and Hillingdon who have significant ports of entry, and Croydon where the Asylum Intake Unit is based.
- Dubs amendment – resettlement of UASC already in France, Greece or Italy. The scheme prioritises children aged 12 and under, at high risk of sexual exploitation, and children of Sudanese or Syrian nationality. Transfer to the UK must be determined to be in the best interest of the child.
- Dublin III Regulation – children/close family/dependents reuniting to have their asylum claim dealt with together. The local authority is responsible for undertaking family assessments to ensure the placement is suitable.
Accommodating UASCs in the UK – the Pan London Rota and the National Transfer Scheme (NTS)
The Pan London Rota is an agreement by Directors of Children Services to support equal distribution of UASC 16/17 years old in London. The Rota is a voluntary arrangement and all London local authorities have positively contributed to receiving rota referrals, with exception of those recognised as significant entry points in London or over the NTS threshold. The Pan London Rota is managed by Croydon Council’s Permanence 1 Team. Emergency Accommodation is managed by LASC. LASC commission and monitor the accommodation and arrange safe transfer and access to emergency medical care if required. They additionally resolve any difficulties and liaise with participating Local authorities as required.
Building on the success of the Pan London Rota model, and in response to growing pressures in London and Kent, the Government introduced the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) on 1st July 2016. The scheme is designed to ensure an even distribution of UASC across LAs nationally. Under the NTS, where an unaccompanied child first presents in a Local Authority which already has over 0.07% UASC to child population, the Local Authority is able to arrange for the transfer of the child. Unlike the Pan London Rota, a child need not be 16/17 years of age.
Local authorities under 0.07% receive £114 per child per night, and local authorities at or over 0.07% will receive the upper threshold for UASC of £143 per child per night.
In the Summer of 2020, due to increased UASC pressures, the government introduced new reforms, including a higher rate of £143 per night for any child transferred from an authority over the 0.07% to be payable to the receiving authority, and this includes transfers through the pan-London rota. They also increased the weekly rate for former UASC Care Leavers from £240 per-week to £270 per-week from 1 April 2021. Whilst these reforms were welcomed, local authorities have continued to face funding gaps and great pressures in relation to UASC.
Temporary decision to mandate the NTS
The national transfer scheme (NTS) was relaunched in July 2021, and in November 2021, the government decided to temporarily mandate the National Transfer scheme (NTS). The decision was made against a backdrop of 150+ unaccompanied children in asylum hotels across the country, with no local authority taking legal responsibility for them. The voluntary rota arrangement, while successful given the circumstances, had been under increasing strain, and London Councils welcomed the decision to mandate the NTS, particularly given the increased UASC pressures facing London boroughs.
Local Authorities will not need to accept UASC where this cohort already makes up 0.07% or more of their general child population. The scheme will be kept under review and the length of time for mandating will be determined by a range of factors including intake levels and how long it takes to end the use of hotels for asylum seekers.
Alongside the mandation of the NTS, a £3 million emergency fund was published in December 2021; councils have been invited to bid for the fund which can be used to help cover legal costs as a result of challenges to age assessments, and other activities to support UASC and UASC care leavers.
There continues to be a large number of asylum seekers in hotels across 22 London boroughs, which is placing boroughs and local services under great pressure. Many boroughs are also receiving increased UASC applicants from contingency hotels (those who were not initially identified as a child and are unaccompanied but claim to be a child and are therefore given an age assessment). Local authorities are able to claim funding to support UASC applicants until a 28-day deadline (which is the time expected to complete an age assessment); however, the high numbers of applications in some local authorities make the 28-day target unattainable.
London has demonstrated a continued commitment to the NTS, yet, despite the NTS being mandated, the ability of London boroughs over their 0.07% threshold to access the NTS continues to be limited, and the number of London boroughs over 0.07% has risen from 7 at 31st March, to 17 at 31st December 2021 (with other boroughs close to the threshold).
There is currently a substantial shortfall between the funding local government receives and the actual cost of caring for UASC, as well as costs associated with providing age assessments. London Councils’ research found that, in 2016/17, 19 London boroughs reported a cumulative funding pressure of £11 million as a result of having to deliver unfunded responsibilities for UASC. A number of boroughs continue to report a growing shortfall in costs, and the new emergency funding is unlikely to cover most local authorities’ immediate costs relating to UASC and UASC care leavers.
London Councils has escalated concerns and recommendations to address issues concerning the NTS, contingency hotels and funding gaps, with the Home Office.
For futher infomation, please contact Eva Barnsley, Principal Policy and Project Officer, Asylum and Migration.