Our key policy calls to the Home Office in response to Covid-19 - Refugee Council
April 8, 2020

Our key policy calls to the Home Office 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.  Whilst the Home Office have responded positively to some of our calls, we remain seriously concerned about the provisions in place for particular groups of people.

Please support us by signing our open letter to the Home Secretary calling for immediate changes

Here’s the key issues that we calling on the Home Office to urgently address.

1. Access to the Asylum System

Problem: In order to make a claim for asylum once already in the UK, a person is required to attend an Asylum Intake Unit (AIU).  Prior to the pandemic there was one intake unit in Croydon and people had to travel there to register their asylum claim.  The Home Office have since set up six additional regional intake units in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds, Solihull and Cardiff.

For most people, travelling to their nearest intake unit will involve long journeys on public transport, putting them at increased risk of exposure to the virus.

Solution:  The Home Office need to urgently put in place an alternative mechanism to allow an asylum claim to be registered with minimal need to travel. We suggest that a person should be able to register their asylum claim by phone, post or email.

2. An increase to asylum support payments in line with that already announced for people on Universal Credit

Problem: People on asylum support are provided with just over £5 per day to cover their essential living needs.   Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, people were already struggling to meet their needs with such limited income.  The Coronavirus pandemic has put additional pressure on limited budgets, with people being forced to shop locally (rather than shop around for the best deals), coupled with an increase in the need for mobile phone credit and data to access support services.

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic the Chancellor Rishi Sunak increased the standard allowance of Universal Credit by £20 a week for the next 12 month ‘to strengthen the safety net’.   People seeking asylum (who were already receiving significantly less than those on Universal Credit) have not received a similar uplift.

On June 8th, the Immigration Minister announced that Asylum support rates would increase from £37.75 to £39.60 per week from June 15th.  This equates to an additional 26p per day, a wholly inadequate increase given the impact of the pandemic, and stands in stark contrast with the uplift awarded to Universal Credit.

Solution:  The Home Office should immediately increase asylum support rates by £20 per week in line with the financial uplift the Government has granted recipients of Universal Credit, to help people seeking asylum manage during the coronavirus pandemic.

3. Social distancing and public health in asylum accommodation

Problem: People in the asylum system who are living in Initial Accommodation (typically large-scale hostel accommodation), or dispersal accommodation (typically Houses of Multiple Occupation) are finding it difficult to maintain social distancing, and may find self-isolation impossible.  Many people in the asylum system are also living in similar situations in hotels as a result of difficulties sourcing accommodation when the asylum contracts changed last year.

There are significant public health concerns about the conditions within all types of  asylum accommodation. Arrangements such as bedroom sharing between unrelated adults, communal eating facilities and crowded social spaces make social distancing difficult, and self-isolation almost impossible. Concerns have also been raised about the provision of sufficient hygiene and sanitation products in both Initial Accommodation centers and hotel provision.

Solution: The Home Office must ensure adequate provision of self- contained accommodation to enable social distancing and self-isolation. In addition, the Home Office must immediately ensure the provision of adequate supplies of cleaning products, soap/hand sanitisers  for people housed in Initial Accommodation and hotels.

4. Accommodation and support for people who had their claim refused prior to the halt on evictions

Problem: Whilst we very much welcome the Home Office announcement made on 26th March to pause evictions from asylum accommodation for three months, this leaves many people at risk of homelessness and destitution if their asylum support had already terminated before this date.

Solution: The Home Office need to put in place measures to enable people to access urgent accommodation and support to ensure that no-one faces homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.