Broken system failing asylum-seeking children

  • By JackGraves

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are in danger of not receiving the care they need due to a breakdown in Government plans to support them, a new report by London Councils reveals.

The Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme, which was created to share responsibility for caring for  unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) across the country, is not working, piling pressure on areas where UASC are most likely to present themselves.

These areas include the Port of Dover in Kent, Heathrow Airport in Hillingdon, the Home Office Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, and the Ports of Southampton and Portsmouth.  

In the first quarter of 2019, not a single UASC was transferred from London through the National Transfer Scheme, compared to 33 transferred in the equivalent period in 2018, a clear sign that the system is broken.

London Councils’ report includes data from a survey of 26 London boroughs which shows the number of UASC in London who are under 18 has increased by 17% and the number of former UASC care leavers aged 18 to 25 in London has increased by almost 50% over the last two years.

London boroughs estimate that 1,800 UASC were in their care in the 2018-19 financial year, at least one third of the total number of UASC in England.

Only around 60% of the cost of caring for UASC is currently covered by Home Office funding, a shortfall of more than £25,000 per child per year, and this does not include the substantial costs of supporting UASC when they leave care.

London boroughs had an estimated £32 million funding shortfall in their collective budgets for caring for UASC in the last financial year.

London Councils is calling on Government to:

  • Fully fund councils to care for UASC and ensure full costs recovery. (Last year London boroughs had an estimated £32 million combined funding shortfall.)
  • Ensure Government departments responsible for UASC - the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government - are working together and with local councils on reviving the National Transfer Scheme.

Cllr Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ Executive member for Schools and Children’s Services, said:

“Child asylum seekers come to the UK fleeing civil war and trauma - witnessing scenes no child should have to see - to build a better life here.

“For decades our response as a nation has been to welcome them with open arms. When these children get help, they’re excelling and integrating in our communities.

“That’s why it is hugely worrying that the Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme is not working. London boroughs fear this will leave us unable to cope with caring for growing numbers of UASC.

“We urgently need additional funding and an open dialogue with Government to get the National Transfer Scheme up and running again. If we cannot commit to supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children properly, we risk putting them through a second ordeal.”



Notes to editors:

London Councils’ report on UASC will be discussed at London Councils’ Leaders’ Committee on Tuesday 9 July.

Case studies are available:

  • Ermil, who came to the UK from Albania in September 2015 and is in the care of Westminster City Council. He received Leave to Remain in 2016 and now works as a team leader in a pub with aspirations to further his career in hospitality management.
  • Duong, a victim of human trafficking from Vietnam who escaped and presented at Paddington Police Station in 2016. Now in the care of Westminster City Council, he is determined to do well academically and is currently studying BTECs, A Level Maths and GCSEs at sixth form with a view to going to university. He also volunteers in a charity shop to develop his English language skills.
  • Sidig, who arrived in the UK in April 2017 after a long and difficult journey from his home country Sudan, during which he experienced abuse and violence. Looked after by Westminster City Council, initially he found it hard to learn English and his behaviour was challenging due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However he passed his ESOL course, accessed CAMHS support and discovered a passion for art and photography - his photographic work has been displayed in an exhibition at Liverpool St Station.  
  • Benyamin is a 19 year old from Afghanistan. Under the care of Brent Council, Benyamin was a looked after child from 11 October 2016 to 21 October 2018 when he turned 18. Currently studying level 2 IT at Harrow College, Benyamin is on the student board as vice president and is a keen photographer.

Background on Home Office funding announcement:

In May the Government announced councils will receive more funding for UASC children.

The announcement said that from 1 April 2019, local authorities will be paid the same amount for every UASC that they look after, regardless of the child’s age or when they entered the UK. Government said local authorities will receive £114 for each child every day that they are in their care which equates to over £41,600 per year per child.

London Councils welcomed the increase in funding, but as many UASC looked after children require high levels of support, this may not cover the full cost of a child’s care in all cases, requiring councils to make up the shortfall. Also this increased funding does not apply to former UASC care leavers aged 18 to 25, which make up the majority of the UASC population and the majority of the costs faced by councils for their care.