Changes to Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to Covid-19 - Refugee Council
August 3, 2020

Changes to Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to Covid-19

We’ve been calling on the government to protect people seeking asylum and refugees at risk due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.  We are particularly concerned for people who are unable to access accommodation or support, those on limited support and those in shared accommodation who may be unable to self-isolate.

This page provides a summary of the government’s response to date,  noting key temporary changes to asylum and resettlement policy and practice.  Information will be updated on a daily basis.  Last updated at 8:00am, on 3rd August 2020

Click on each headline below to see more detail.

On 22nd April, the Home Office informed us that they have set up a number of temporary regional Asylum Intake Units (AIU) to enable people to attend screening interviews in additional locations aside from Croydon.

As of the 22nd April, the Asylum Intake Unit (AIU) in Croydon will continue to function as normal but asylum registrations will also be able to be made at additional locations in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds, Solihull and Cardiff.   These additional locations are temporary and will not operate a 5-day service.  Person to person contact at the Intake Units has been minimised.  Further details on the opening times and how to book an appointment at each location can be found here.

The Home Office have advised that anyone who books an appointment at any location must bring their appointment letter with them to their appointment.

As before, people do not need to make an appointment if they are homeless though the Home Office advise people who need to ‘walk-in’, should contact the Asylum Intake Unit appointment line who will be able to advise whether they should attend the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon or one of the temporary locations.

Some reporting centres will re-open from 20 July for limited hours, outside of peak travel times. People will get a text message, email or letter when with information about their new reporting date. Further details can be found here.

The Home Office have also now provided email addresses for all the reporting centres which can be contacted if there are any issues.

The Home Office paused face to face substantive asylum interviews on the 18th March.

On the 15th June the Home Office confirmed that they plan to resume substantive interviews from the end of June 2020 using existing Video Conferencing facilities in Home Office (UKVI)  buildings and VFS (the company that runs some of the Video Conferencing facilities); some of the interviewing officers will be working from home but they can make use of Home Office technology. The resumption of substantive interviews will be rolled out in three phases and eventually the Home Office intends to return to pre Covid-19 practice.

Phase 1Those asked to attend an asylum interview will be limited to those within close proximity to a UKVI or VFS location to help reduce need for public transport where possible. Once applicants attend a UKVI or VFS centre, UKVI or VFS staff will accompany them  straight to an interview room/booth as soon as possible to avoid waiting in public areas. Interviews will then be completed remotely over video with the caseworker and interpreter in a separate location to help with social distancing. Consideration will be given under the existing process on the suitability of those interviewed using video conferencing.

Phase 2 – Face to face interviews will resume; plans are already being made to amend the physical space to put in place screens and the room layout will be changed so that social distancing (under the current 2 metre rule) can be maintained. Not all of the rooms in use pre Covid-19 will be suitable if there is not room for social distancing.  It will be optional for caseworkers, and claimants, if they wish to wear personal safety equipment in the form of a mask to cover their face during interviews or wear gloves. There will be additional breaks factored in, based on the physical interviewing environment.

Phase 3Resumption of interviews for unaccompanied children and for families who need to use UKVI provided childcare.

In all cases there may need to be limits set on the number of people allowed to attend a substantive interviews. The Home Office has assured us that it will work with legal representatives.

The usual notice period will be given when asking an applicant to attend an interview i.e. five days.

Plans are likely to vary across UKVI regions because of different building layouts and therefore what needs to be put in place to enable substantive interviews to resume.

Evictions from asylum accommodation paused

On 27th March 2020, the Home Office Minister Chris Philp sent a Letter to the British Red Cross announcing that for the next three months people will not be asked to leave their asylum accommodation.   This applies to both people whose asylum cases are refused and those who are granted  status.  In the letter, the Minister sets out that this will reviewed towards the end of June.  The Red Cross also received clarification that the halt on evictions applies to people on section 95 support and section 4 support.  If people have received “Notice to Quit” letters, they should contact Migrant Help to get support reinstated (if they have not already been contacted about reinstatement of support).

Following the review in June, the Home Office have confirmed their intention to resume evictions for people granted status, however, all evictions remain paused from 1st July, pending a decision from the Immigration Minister as to when evictions will resume.


Asylum support payments

People on section 95 support whose asylum claim and any appeal are refused will be transferred to section 4 support and will continue receiving financial support.  They should receive a letter notifying them of this.

People who have received a positive decision on their asylum claim will not be asked to leave their asylum accommodation but are expected to apply for mainstream welfare benefits, however, their asylum support payments will continue until they have received their first benefit payment.

The only likely discontinuations of asylum support for the next 3 months are where the person is found to be no longer destitute or where there has been a serious breach of the relevant regulations.  The Home Office expect these cases to be few in number.

On June 8th, the Immigration Minister Chris Philp announced that from June 15th, Asylum Support rates would increase from £37.75 to £39.60 per week.  Section 4 rates would also be uplifted to £39.60.   The uplift is a provisional measure pending a full review.


Relaxed evidence requirements for asylum support applications

The Home Office have stated that they will not expect Migrant Help to have had sight of original supporting documents provided with asylum support applications. Migrant Help will be able to complete information to indicate they have seen copy documents.

As new birth certificates are not currently being issued, the Home Office will not expect applicants for maternity payments to produce them.  A full birth certificate may be required at a later date once normal arrangements have resumed.


Changes to dispersal

In a separate letter sent to Local Authorities the Home Office announced that as a result of the halt in evictions, accommodation providers have been instructed to procure additional properties (even in areas where the Local Authority had not previously agreed to become a dispersal area). 

In light of NHS England guidance the Home Office are not requiring providers to move people into new accommodation, unless the person is street homeless, there are other vulnerability factors or there is a court order requiring them to provide accommodation.   People who have applied for S95 support in the form of accommodation and subsistence may in some circumstances be offered temporary subsistence payments to cover their essential living needs in the accommodation they are occupying.

On the 23rd June the Home Office circulated the following with regard to the provision of internet access:

Why is the Home Office providing internet access for asylum seekers within asylum accommodation?

The Home Office is providing internet access for asylum seekers in certain parts of our accommodation as a result of recommendations made by Public Health England in direct relation to supporting well-being during lockdown and measures to support prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

How long will be internet access be provided?  

It will be provided for so long as Public Health England make those recommendations in relation to controlling the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Which asylum seekers will get access to internet access?

Those asylum seekers who are currently accommodated within  the larger Initial Accommodation facilities where there is no WiFi provision will have access to the internet via SIM cards.  For those within hotels accommodation, it is normal for guests to have Wi-Fi access as part of the hotel facilities

How will internet access be provided?

Data only SIM cards will be provided to enable access to the internet whilst they are within the specific accommodation locations.

Why SIM Cards?

The installation of Wi-Fi within the larger Initial Accommodation locations would have not been viable during the Lockdown period both practically and in terms of the timeline. SIM cards are a cost-effective and deliverable alternative.

When will free internet access be provided to asylum seekers?

Free Wi-Fi is currently available to the asylum seekers accommodated within hotels as part of the general offer to residents. SIM Cards are in the process of being issued by our accommodation providers across relevant parts of the Initial Accommodation estate.  Asylum seekers will retain the SIM card whilst they are in residency within that accommodation; upon leaving this accommodation the SIM card will be recovered and deactivated; unless they are being re-located to another Initial Accommodation where SIM cards are issued..

Will asylum seekers be provided with smart-phones if they don’t have them?

The requirement does not extend to the provision of mobile telephony to asylum seekers to those who do not ordinarily have their own devices. Alternatives are provided to those who wish to make calls to other agencies i.e. AIRE (Migrant Help) etc.

Are there any plans to extend free internet access to other accommodation used by asylum seekers?

There is no Public Health advice to suggest that and that is not our intention. The Home Office is however working with partners to gather details of where free Wi-Fi is provided in the towns and cities where asylum seekers live within Dispersed Accommodation to include this within Induction Packs. The Home Office will also work with partners to ensure where there are schemes for the general UK population to gain access to free Wi-Fi, asylum seekers will be included where possible.

Following a legal challenge, the Secretary of State agreed to extend free school meal entitlement temporarily during the current crisis to children from the following groups provided their families meet the usual income threshold for free school meals:

  • Children in families receiving section 4 support
  • Children whose parents are Zambrano Carers
  • Children in families with LtR subject to NRPF restriction
  • Children whose families receive support pursuant to section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who have no recourse to public funds

Therefore, children from the above groups will now be eligible for the support under the Covid 19: school meals policy whereas originally they were excluded.  The Covid 19 scheme enables eligible children to have school meals delivered and collected from school or access to £15 weekly vouchers per eligible child.

Project 17 have developed an info sheet and template letter which can be found here.

Further info and guidance on the new provisions can be found here.

General free school meal guidance is outlined here.

On the 29th April the Home Office confirmed that Asylum Operations are continuing and they are able to make and serve decisions on cases where there is enough information to do so, whilst others will be effectively on hold.    The Home Office are reviewing cases on a case by case basis, ensuring those with significant safeguarding concerns or vulnerabilities are only served when appropriate to do so.

Decisions that may be affected, and therefore on hold include;

  • Where a recipient may be vulnerable to destitution as a result of our decision.
  • Where an individual is particularly vulnerable, an example being someone with mental health conditions, and also those with disabilities.

On 30th March the Home Office informed ILPA that they have put in place a process to enable asylum decisions to be served by email.  The Home Office have set up a process whereby they will send an email to the legal representative (using the most recent email address they have on file) to verify the following:

  • that the email address  is correct
  • that the representative is happy to receive emails
  • that the authority to act is current
  • that there are no reasons why serving the decision by email would not be appropriate

Once the above have been verified by the legal advisor, any decision on the case will be able to be served via email.  The Home Office will keep this new system under review.

Further information can be found on the ILPA website here.

From 25th March, no face-to-face appeal hearings will be listed at the First-tier Tribunal (the court where most asylum and immigration appeals are be heard).

Judges will conduct Case Management Review (CMR) Hearings by telephone to decide if the case can be decided on the papers (without a hearing). If a full hearing needs to go ahead, this will be done by video.

Further information on the process can be found on the ILPA website here.

The Upper Tribunal have cancelled almost all listed hearings including Judicial Reviews.

The Home Office have confirmed that they have suspended the requirement to attend the Further Submissions Unit in Liverpool in order to lodge a further submission.

It is now possible to send further submissions by post or email

Postal address:
Further Submissions Unit
The Capital Building
Old Hall Street
Liverpool
L3 9PP

E-mail address: CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk

The Asylum Support Tribunal (AST) is working remotely.  Appeals are now either determined on the papers or conducted by telephone.  The Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) can represent clients in both types of appeals.  The AST have introduced a new notice of appeal form to reflect these changes.

Please note that to take into account remote working the timeframes for appeals has changed, in particular the deadline for responding to directions. So it is crucial that you read the directions notice carefully. You can of course submit evidence after the deadline, but be aware that the AST are operating a skeleton staff who are all working remotely, so it’s advisable not to leave it too late. You may not receive an acknowledgement even if you ask for one. The email address to send the Notice of Appeal and your client’s response to directions is asylumsupporttribunals@justice.gov.uk

The notification of hearing and the directions notice contain important information about how your client’s appeal will be conducted, in particular whether it will be a paper or a telephone hearing. It may not always be clear however that you can request a telephone hearing even if the judge has listed the appeal as a paper hearing. Please see ASAP’s briefing note which explains when it may be appropriate to request this.

As ASAP are no longer seeing clients face to face at the tribunal, they can now only assist in cases which are referred to them in advance. So please refer cases to ASAP as early as possible and with as much information as you can.

ASAP have amended their referral and authority forms so that they are now available as word documents which you can edit and email back. ASAP can accept verbal consent for referrals, as long as you confirm in the first instance that you have obtained permission from your client for ASAP to represent them and read their appeal documents.

Please also call the ASAP advice line if you need advice on individual cases.

Please do continue to refer to ASAP through referrals@asaproject.org.uk

ASAP have also produced a detailed Factsheet on Covid-19 and asylum support, which is available here.

The Home Office have confirmed that they will be resuming Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) from 13th July 2020.   The AVR service had previously been put on hold due to Covid-19.

Individuals and families who are in the UK without leave and who wish to return home, are now able to contact the Voluntary Returns Service to discuss the support options available to them using the details below:

Telephone: 0300 0040 202 Opening hours 09:00-17:00

Online form: https://www.gov.uk/return-home-voluntarily

In response to a legal challenge by Detention Action, the Home Office released 350 people held under immigration powers. The number of people held in immigration detention has reduced dramatically, from 1,225 on 1 January to 368.

In addition, the Home Office has committed to urgently review the cases of every person held in immigration detention. The Home Office has also halted the new detentions of persons liable to administrative removal to 49 countries, including Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Albania.

The Home Office has also introduced a series of protective measures for detainees including:

• Enhanced screening, identification and monitoring of those at risk or showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly for this with underlying health conditions.
• Ensuring that persons at increased risk from Covid-19, and persons who are symptomatic, are provided with facilities to self-isolate in single-occupancy rooms and are provided with individualised care plans
• A review of cleaning practices within detention centres to ensure compliance with Public Health England guidance
• Provision of anti-bacterial cleaning materials to detainees, upon request
• The introduction of social spacing measures in communal areas
• The production of specific guidance to explain in clear terms how to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19

Having initially put Statelessness applications on hold due to capacity issues, the majority of the Statelessness Determination Team are now back up and running as of 23rd April and are now able to make decisions on Stateless Leave cases. There may be some ongoing logistical issues with part of the process that will reduce service delivery, but they have workarounds in place and so will be able to make and serve decisions.

If you have outstanding cases that you believe need to be prioritised due to particular vulnerabilities please let the Statelessness Determination Team know.   All other cases will be considered in due course.

On the 19th June the UNHCR and IOM issued a joint statement confirming the resumption of resettlement travel, following the temporary suspension of all travel in March.

Although many travel restrictions still remain in place, as these begin to lift in many resettlement countries more refugee departures can be anticipated. UNHCR and IOM will continue to work with our government partners and other stakeholders around the world to move towards a return to normal operations as swiftly as the situation allows in each country.  As yet, the Home Office have not confirmed when flights to the UK will resume.

The Home Office have produced a FAQ document in response to questions put forward by stakeholders (please note: this FAQ pre-dates the UNHCR announcement confirming the resumption of travel).

The Home Office have informed us that they have limited capacity to process travel document applications due to Covid-19.

They advise that anyone who is in particularly difficult situation and needs their application to be considered as a matter of priority, should send a request, along with scanned recent, acceptable evidence of the circumstances and confirmation that the client is able to travel i.e. confirmation from the airline or ferry company  to traveldocumentenquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk

If the Home Office agree that the case meets the criteria for being expedited and an application has not yet been submitted online, then the applicant will need to complete an online application.  If an application has already been submitted then the applicant should not apply again as this is likely to cause confusion and may delay their application.

The Home Office ask that the above is done only in the most urgent of cases as there are a limited amount of officers available to monitor this email inbox and to process cases.

In addition, please be aware that more countries are closing airports and borders on a daily basis and this will also impact on people’s ability to travel.

Finally, the Home Office are working with our delivery partners, DX, to understand and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their services. Please be aware that documents may take longer than usual to be delivered.

Whilst it is still possible to submit Refugee Family Reunion applications, the Home Office are currently unable to process applications due to the closure of Visa Application Centres (VAC).   The application process requires the applicant to attend a VAC to submit their biometric data, and as all VACs are currently closed, this stage of the process cannot be completed.

People who were issued a 30 day visa who were  subsequently unable to travel due to travel restrictions can apply to have their visas renewed once travel restrictions are lifted.   To make a request, applicants should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre.  Applicants will need to include their name, nationality, date of birth and their GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line..

Once a request has been submitted, applicants will then be contacted once the VACs reopen to arrange for a replacement visa to be endorsed in their passport.  This process will be in place until the end of 2020.  Further info on this process can be found here.

On the 5th June 2020, the Home Office confirmed the following:

  • The Home Office will replace 30-day vignettes that have lapsed or about to expire with vignettes which are valid for travel for up to three months (90 days) and will maintain this policy until the end of the year.
  • Where expired vignettes need to be reissued, we will reissue BRPs to reflect the updated leave start and end dates.
  • We will issue entry clearance vignettes that are valid for up to three months to all new applications and planned applications for leave of over six months when VACs start to reopen until the end of the year.
  • We will keep this policy under review

On the 28th April, the Home Office confirmed that whilst they continue to process Dublin III applications to reunite unaccompanied children with family members living in the UK, and are willing to accept such transfers, current travel/flight restrictions mean that in effect transfers are temporarily suspended.   In addition to the flight restrictions, arrangements for transfer under Dublin III are facilitated and undertaken by the authorities of the Member State where the child is currently residing, and as such will be affected by restrictions limiting the ability to travel to the airport and transit through countries.

On the 11th May a flight from Greece arrived in the UK, bringing 52 people, including several minors, to join family members in the UK.

The Home Office hope to be able to resume regular transfers at the earliest opportunity, once it is safe and practical to do so for all involved.

On the 20th April, the Home Office informed us that they are no longer able to accept Integration Loan applications by post.

Integration Loan application forms, can now be completed and submitted online here.   The online form should completed and submitted form by clicking on the ‘submit’ form button. This will automatically open an e-mail with the completed application form attached to the email.  Supporting documents should be scanned and also attached to the email before pressing press send.   The form and the supporting documents will then be sent to Integrationloan@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Where scanning facilities are not accessible, photos of the signed application form and supporting documents will be accepted, also by email.  Applicants should include their email address within the loan application so that the Home Office can inform them when their loan application has been decided.

Anyone who submitted a postal application before the 20th March will have their application considered and they do not need to take any further action.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also been making temporary changes to their policies regarding access to welfare benefits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We will be listing those in this section here. Further information can be found on the government website ‘Coronavirus and claiming benefits’.

  • As of Tuesday 24 March, access to jobcentres is limited, with members of the public not admitted into jobcentres unless they are directed to do so with a booked appointment. Only the most vulnerable claimants who cannot access DWP services by other channels will be able to attend, with the public urged to use online services. People can still make applications for benefits online if they are eligible. Further details can be found on the government website here.
  • Advances for all new UC claimants in need are now available online/via phone, with no requirement to attend the jobcentre.
  • As of Tuesday 24 March, benefit reviews and reassessments, including face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits, are suspended for three months. Details can be found on the government website here.
  • From 6 April, the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element will be increased by £20 per week for one year.
  • The Local Housing Allowance rates for private renters claiming the Universal Credit housing element or Housing Benefit will be increased to the 30th percentile of market rents.
  • The Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed claimants affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 has been relaxed.
  • National Insurance Number interviews are not currently taking place for 3 months effective from the 17th of March. The DWP have confirmed that individuals do not need a National Insurance number to apply for benefits or a job. Individuals can start work without a National Insurance Number as long as they have the right to work in the UK and employers have information to allow them to do this.

The Government has amended most types of eviction notice in the social and private rented sector, so that a tenant must be given three months’ notice before any court proceedings to evict commence. This change lasts for notices issues until 30 September 2020, but that date could be amended.

Alongside this, all current and upcoming eviction proceedings in the courts have been suspended so that no private or social tenant can be evicted for until 23rd August 2020.

Further information can be found here.

On the 26th March, the Government wrote to local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough, and those in hostels and night shelters, by the weekend.

In the letter from the homelessness minister, Luke Hall MP, the Government has advised that local authorities ‘utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) who require shelter and other forms of support due to the pandemic’.

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network have produced a useful webpage with a link through to a more detailed factsheet aimed at Local Authorities which you can find here.

It includes info on:

  • Support for people with NRPF, including good practice already being undertaken by councils and supporting people during the pandemic when social services’ duties are engaged
  • Rights and entitlements of people with NRPF to government assistance being provided during the pandemic

From 30th March 2020, Right to rent and right to work checks have been adapted to make it easier for landlords and employers to carry them out during the coronavirus outbreak.

The temporary changes will mean the Home Office will not require landlords and employers to see original documents and will allow checks to be undertaken over video calls.

These temporary changes will mean that during the coronavirus outbreak prospective renters and workers are now able to submit scanned documents, rather than originals, to show they have a right to rent or right to work.

Further information can be found here

The NHS have set up a web-page that allows people living in England who have a medical condition that makes them extremely vulnerable to coronavirus to join a register.   Once registered, people will be able to ask for help and support, including getting deliveries of essential supplies like food.  People can register themselves or others can register on their behalf.

People seeking asylum are able to register if they are in scope of the categories below.

1. Solid organ transplant recipients
2. People with specific cancers

  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs

3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
6. People who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired

Accommodation providers in England will also be supporting people in asylum accommodation who fit the above criteria to register.

Other useful information: