Hundreds face looming risk of homelessness
Hundreds face looming risk of homelessness
Hundreds could be left homeless amid the second wave of Covid-19, as the Home Office evicts people from asylum accommodation.
Migrants charities are hearing from people who have received notices to quit their housing – despite them living in areas under extra measures to combat the virus.
In March, it was announced that asylum seekers would not be told to leave their accommodation once their claim or appeal was refused – in order to protect people during the pandemic. Barracks and hotels have been commandeered to house people within the system – some of whom were persuaded to leave their friends’ floors and sofas and take formal accommodation during the pandemic.
However, the Home Office has now restarted evictions for people with no recourse to public funds.
Many groups that support destitute asylum seekers are not currently operating and campaigners fear it will be harder than ever for people to find acquaintances willing to put them up. It is thought as many as 400 people across the North West could be affected.
Migrants Rights Network, NACCOM and Asylum Matters have written to the prime minister calling for the policy to be reconsidered, alongside more support for councils to meet the needs of people with no recourse to public funds.
The letter says the risks to people affected by this decision are “unacceptably high”. It continues: “It has been clearly evidenced that people from Black and ethnic minority communities, including people facing eviction from asylum accommodation, face a significantly higher risk of poor clinical outcomes if exposed to the virus.
“We therefore ask that you immediately reverse this decision so as to prevent people who have been refused asylum becoming homeless and destitute, and to protect the health and safety of both individuals and the general public.”
Laura Gibbons, a solicitor at Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), has lodged two appeals for people who have received letters from the Home Office to say they have to leave their housing, and has been contacted by a third who has received an eviction letter from Serco. All three are living in areas subject to local lockdown restrictions, including two in Wigan.
Gibbons said: “A person only has three days to lodge an appeal after receiving a notice from the Home Office, so it’s a very quick turnaround. At the moment we aren’t doing any face to face support, so it’s quite a challenge. A lot of people seem to be receiving a letter out of the blue from Serco, terminating their accommodation. We initially wondered if this was an error because Serco has an automated system and the Home Office have stated in emails that they were not going to be evicting people in local lockdown areas. But the Home Office have maintained their intention to evict in its response to our first appeal application.”
Ewan Roberts, manager of Asylum Link Merseyside, knows of 16 people who were given notice to leave the Scarisbrick Hotel in Southport by 6 October – despite the region being put into extra lockdown measures in early October. Those letters came from Serco, rather than the Home Office.
He said: “The asylum system is almost in stasis at the moment – things are moving very slowly. If we were really treating this as a public health emergency – as we should – there is no way we would be making people homeless like this. It’s a lack of care for these people and it reinforces the notion that we can treat asylum seekers like this because they’re seen as less important than ourselves.”
MPs were due to discuss the policy of no recourse to public funds as Big Issue North went to press.
“This decision needs to be reversed if we are to avoid a devastating return to destitution on the streets of our towns and cities.”
Renae Mann, NACCOM’s national director, said: “At any time, a decision to make people homeless and destitute is unacceptable, but during a pandemic that has disproportionally affected people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, such a step is reckless and irresponsible. Everyone needs somewhere safe to stay – it is as simple as that.
“The move is completely out of line with the wider messaging we have seen this week from central government around the safety precautions needed to prevent the spread of the virus. It also, crucially, shows no consideration for people’s welfare or wellbeing. Our message could not be clearer – this decision needs to be reversed if we are to avoid a devastating return to destitution on the streets of our towns and cities.”
A Home Office spokesperson said more than £3.7 billion had been allocated to local authorities to help them respond to coronavirus pressures and that councils can provide basic safety net support, regardless of immigration status, if there is a genuine need.
She added: “Those who have received a negative asylum decision, which means they have no right to remain the UK, are given a 21-day grace period. During this time they are rightly expected to make steps to return to their country of origin while still remaining in accommodation and receiving support.
“The phased cessation of support has now begun in order to reduce the demand on the asylum system. We have been clear from the outset that this was a temporary measure which would be brought to an end as soon as it was safe.
“Extensive action has also been taken to support those with no recourse to public funds, such as rent protections, the Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and allocating £750 million for charities to support the most vulnerable.”