Refugees who are granted asylum are typically given 28 days by the Home Office to find somewhere new to live, set up a bank account, and find a job or apply for universal credit, before they are kicked out of their government-funded hotel accommodation.
But that has now been reduced to as little as seven days because the government is delaying giving asylum seekers the documents they need to secure housing and apply for welfare.
Some 140 organisations, including the British Red Cross, Shelter and Crisis, have written an open letter to home secretary Suella Braverman and levelling up secretary Michael Gove saying the changes are placing huge pressure on the voluntary sector as more people present as homeless.
Charity Refugees at Home, which finds rooms for asylum seekers in family homes, said one refugee they helped had been forced to sleep on the street outside the hotel they were evicted from. Another Sudanese refugee had to resort to sleeping at an airport.
Refugees at Home said the number of non-Ukrainian refugees referred to the charity in August was three times higher than the previous year - 213 compared to 72 in August 2022.
And Hope at Home, a charity that supports slavery victims, has seen referrals triple since July 2023, with rates now five times higher than the same period in 2022.
They are calling for refugees to receive all the documentation they need to start building a life in the UK before the 28-day notice period begins and for the period to be extended to 56 days.
More than 2,000 asylum cases are reportedly being processed each week, meaning many thousands are likely already impacted by the government’s decision to slash the eviction times.
The clock used to start ticking once identity cards - which allow people to apply for a bank account or benefits - were issued. But since the beginning of August, the notice period now starts from the moment asylum seekers receive their successful grant letter, charities say.
Due to delays of up to two weeks between receiving the grant and getting the ID, asylum seekers are well into the 28-day period before they can even start asking for help. Refugees only receive their eviction notice, giving them seven days to leave the hotel, after they get their ID.
This is often the only evidence a local authority will accept as proof of imminent homelessness and so many find themselves with only a week to find somewhere to live.
In one case that Refugees at Home was asked to support, Reet, a 41-year-old woman from Ethiopia, was forced to sleep in a doorway outside the hotel she was evicted from because she had nowhere to turn. She had been waiting for her asylum decision since 2020 but could not find anywhere to live once she was granted asylum.
One young man from Sudan was evicted before he could register for benefits and had to sleep at a UK airport before they could find him a host.
The charity is still searching for hosts for another refugee from South Sudan, Faheem, who is desperate for accommodation in Essex - the only place he knows in the UK and where he has a support network.
NACCOM, a network of organisations tackling destitution in the UK, said it has accommodated at least 864 refugee adults in 2022-23. This is 33 per cent more than in 2021-22 and 54 per cent more than 2020-21.
Jared Hodgson, CEO at Hope at Home, said: “Out of the 16 people referred to us in August 2023, six of these men had been given notice to quit and only seven days to find alternative accommodation. All of these men are now most likely either sofa surfing or facing street homelessness, as we have been unable to place them due to very limited host availability.”
Salma Ravat, CEO of One Roof Leicester, said: “Normally, on average we receive one [referral] a week, in the past 2-3 weeks we have received 10 requests for accommodation for single men who have received a positive decision. Unfortunately, as we are currently full, we have been unable to offer accommodation to any of these individuals.”
Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais, said a surge in asylum grants has overloaded a system that was already struggling to cope. He said: “Being granted refugee status should be a happy moment. Instead, hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees are facing homelessness and destitution. Refugees are telling us they are being forced to buy tents and sleep rough in the streets.”
Carly Whyborn, executive director at Refugees at Home, said it was struggling to deal with the “disastrous consequences of the Home Office’s changes to its move-on process”, while Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said the was “punishing vulnerable refugees for its own gross mismanagement”.
Bridget Young, from the NACCOM, said: “Giving people as little as seven days’ notice will create stress and anxiety, and force them to make crisis decisions, with many people having no option but to seek homelessness assistance, or to rough sleep if they are unable to access emergency support.”
Cllr Shaun Davies, chair of the Local Government Association, said councils were facing “combined pressures” from different asylum and refugee schemes. He added that urgent solutions were needed to address the housing shortage.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing an unacceptable £6m a day.
“We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.”
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