Tens of thousands of people in the asylum system could be at risk of homelessness as the Government works to clear the so-called legacy backlog before the end of the year, a major charity has warned.
The British Red Cross said its services have seen the number of people they support who have been granted refugee status but who have become destitute more than double since early summer.
The charity criticised changes it said the Government has made to the time people are given to move out of asylum accommodation once they are given refugee status – the 28-day so-called “move-on” period.
The charity said it has seen some refugees get just seven days’ notice, and added that while reducing the asylum backlog and speeding up claims is something to be welcomed, it is putting “an increasing amount of pressure on local authorities to support people to find housing quickly”.
One of the charity’s refugee service managers claimed that in parts of Greater Manchester, “homelessness for single men has almost become a guaranteed part of getting refugee status”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to clear by the end of 2023 the backlog of older cases which had been in the asylum system as of the end of June last year.
By the end of June this year, there were 67,870 legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision.
The Home Office has previously insisted the Government is “on track” to clear the legacy backlog by the end of 2023.
The British Red Cross has estimated that, based on the percentage of people and dependants in the backlog who were in asylum accommodation in June last year, a worst-case scenario could see more than 53,000 people affected by having to leave their accommodation soon.
It suggested around 26,000 people are at risk even if the backlog is not cleared by the Prime Minister’s deadline.
The charity said its figures are based on all decisions for people who live in asylum accommodation – both those who are granted refugee status and those who are not, who will also need to leave their accommodation in the days that follow.
A Home Office spokesperson said they “do not recognise these forecasts” and insisted the Government provides support for refugees to access jobs, benefits and housing.
The charity’s comments follow a similar complaint from the Refugee Council last month, which said while the notice period for people granted refugee status had previously started from when a person received their Biometric Residence Permit, it now begins when someone receives a grant letter telling them their protection claim has been accepted.
Both charities said they have seen people therefore left with too little time to move out of their asylum accommodation, with the British Red Cross warning this “could lead to devastating levels of destitution”.
The charity said its refugee services have seen the number of people they support with refugee status who have then become destitute rise from 132 people in June and July, to 317 people in August and September.
The charity has repeated its call for the Government to extend the move-on period to 56 days – to match the time period local authorities are given to work with households at risk of homelessness.
Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director for refugee support, said: “People who have been forced to flee their homes have already experienced unimaginable trauma. They need stability, support and to feel safe – making people destitute only causes more distress and hardship.
“Once they get refugee status, they need more time, not less, to find housing, work or benefits. It takes at least 35 days to start getting Universal Credit and local authorities need at least 56 days to help them find accommodation.
“Extending the move-on period would give refugees the support they need as they start to rebuild their lives.”
The Home Office spokesperson said: “All asylum applications are considered on individual merits.
“The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing millions of pounds 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.”