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Refugees: Notice Period for Home Office Accommodation

Volume 834: debated on Monday 18 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to ensure that refugees are given 28 days’ notice before they are required to leave their Home Office accommodation, having received documentation after being granted asylum or being given leave to enter or remain.

My Lords, the current practice is that individuals remain on asylum support and in asylum accommodation for 28 days from the point of the biometric residence permit being issued. This means that individuals have longer than 28 days’ notice after receiving their grant of leave to make onward arrangements.

My Lords, last week during the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, the case was well made that the 28-day period is inadequate and should be extended to 56 days to allow universal credit and housing benefit to come through. However, many of those who support refugees are receiving increasing numbers of concerns that refugees are being given as few as seven days’ notice before being evicted, causing widespread homelessness and greater concern. Last week, I, along with 45 faith and belief leaders, wrote to the Minister for Illegal Migration and the Faith Minister about this. What data is the Home Office collecting that demonstrates that the 28-day notice period is being properly implemented? What action will it take to review it, given reported failures to do so?

My Lords, I will go through the process: all individuals who receive a positive decision on their asylum claim can remain on support and in their accommodation for at least 28 days from when their decision is served. However, as I said in my earlier Answer, current practice is that individuals remain on that support and in accommodation for 28 days from the point of the biometric residence permit being issued. That can be five to seven days after the asylum decision. This means that individuals have longer than the 28 days’ notice after receiving their grant of leave to make onward arrangements. Confirmation of the exact date that an individual’s support and accommodation are due to end will be issued in a notice-to-quit or notice-to-vacate letter from the individual’s accommodation provider. This notice will be issued at least seven days before support and accommodation is due to end. There are at least three opportunities there where the asylum seeker, or the asylum claimant who has received a decision, will be notified. They have plenty of time.

My Lords, last week the Minister said that 28 days was “more than enough” and “perfectly generous”. Has he read the research done over the years, which shows the hardship and heartache that that period causes to newly recognised refugees at the point where they should be delighted because they have got their status? If he has not read the research, please will he do so—and will he undertake to meet those organisations on the ground that know what it is like to have to try to find somewhere in 28 days?

My Lords, as I have tried to explain, it is more than 28 days. The underlying aspect of this is that we should be moving to 56 days; I am afraid that we simply do not agree. The asylum accommodation estate is under huge strain, as all noble Lords are aware. Increasing the move-on period would exacerbate those pressures. Therefore, there are no current plans to extend the prescribed period, which is long-standing in our legislation; but we engage with the Department for Work and Pensions and DLUHC on ensuring that individuals can move on as smoothly as possible. I have read some of the research—not all of it—and I will continue to do so.

My Lords, I add my support to the modest proposal of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Asylum seekers given the right to remain must be given a realistic timeframe to move out of temporary Home Office accommodation, bearing in mind the trauma that they have suffered and their lack of familiarity with their new surroundings. Sikh teachings on the need to help such people echo Christian sentiment, which pointedly reminds us that Jesus and his family were themselves refugees in Egypt.

My Lords, I will go through a little bit of what local authorities receive from the department. We work closely with DLUHC and regularly engage with the local authorities to ensure that they are supported. We of course recognise that the number of individuals in the system and the clearance of the asylum backlog is adding pressure to local authorities and their housing allocation capacity because of individuals presenting as homeless. I would also say to the noble Lord that all of the people being cleared in relation to the backlog have been in this country for a long time already.

My Lords, the problem that the Minister has just alluded to is that local authorities are under enormous pressure when people arrive on their doorstep with a short period of time in which to find themselves appropriate housing. Given that the number of people reporting after the decision-making is now larger than it was, what extra assistance are the Government giving to local authorities, and to the voluntary sector, which is doing so much to help where it can?

My Lords, there are a number of things that we are doing. We have local authority liaison officers who provide a specific point of contact for local authorities, particularly for urgent discontinuation-related inquiries. There are significant improvements in train to ensure that local authorities receive early notification of those who are being granted and leaving Home Office accommodation and supporting those customers through the move-on process following a positive decision. Following notification of a service decision, accommodation providers will notify local authorities within two days. We also share relevant data in the form of heat maps and various other macro data, if you will, to ensure effective planning.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister has just told us, the reality for many refugees with newly granted status is that they are required to leave their accommodation, often within seven days from being given a notice to quit. That means they are forced to go to their local authorities and many of them are homeless or on the streets. That is the reality, and it is the result of government policy. All the Minister tells us is that everything is fine, but it is not. It needs sorting out.

The noble Lord is right that they get seven days from the notice to quit, but they get 28 days from the issue of the biometric residence permit, so it is not quite right.

My Lords, a little while ago I was talking to an organisation that looks after people who become homeless. It quoted a recent example of a refugee who could not find any accommodation in the time that he had and eventually had to sleep for a week at Euston station—having gone through all the trauma of being a refugee and all that that entailed—before this charity picked him up. That is not good enough.

I certainly regret the individual circumstances described by the noble Lord and, obviously, we would prefer that not to be the case.

My Lords, I wonder if the Minister would actually answer the question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. She made the point that sources—I assume they are sources that she respects—inform her that people have seven days in which to find alternative accommodation. Will the Minister look into the examples that she has raised? Surely everything he says means that he at least thinks 28 days is necessary.

Yes, I think 28 days is necessary, and of course I will look into those. As I say, everyone gets 28 days from the issue of the biometric residence permit.

My Lords, the Government have made a right mess of this. They inherited a system that worked and have broken it. Is it not wrong for refugees to find themselves out on the streets? Have they not suffered enough? Should the Government not be making sure that no refugee is homeless?

I agree with the noble Lord in as much as no one should find themselves homeless. I also agree that the refugee system is obviously under enormous strain. I therefore look forward to the noble Lord’s enthusiastic support for the Rwanda Bill when it arrives.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that these refugees are made aware that the 28 days is commencing when they get their biometric assessment, or do they not realise that until they get the seven-day notice?

The noble Baroness asks me a good question. I am going to look into that, because I do not know. I assume that they are made aware of it, of course, but I have not been present when one of these notices is issued. I will find out.

My Lords, the most eloquent contribution to this short debate has been the silence of the Members on the Conservative Benches. Is it not a fact that, as was alluded to in the right reverend Prelate’s question, getting into the system for benefits and the rest of it requires more than the length of time that we are talking about?

I say to the noble Lord that that is not the case. You can start to apply for things like universal credit before you receive the biometric residence permit. I appreciate that that is not perfect, but it is certainly enough time to get into the system.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that part of the problem here is that asylum seekers are restricted in their ability to work until they receive their asylum status? Therefore, when they receive their asylum status, they have no resources that they can use in order to obtain accommodation.

My Lords, I am glad to hear that the Minister will take that point back, but it is entirely salient and, if I may say so, I am surprised that he does not have a slightly more substantive answer. Does he also agree that one of the difficulties that many of these people face is that English is not by any means their first language and sometimes they do not have reasonable fluency in it after several years in this country? Does he accept that these additional challenges make the timeframes extremely difficult for people to manage?

I acknowledge that nothing in this particular space is easy, but there are many organisations that provide support to individuals to arrange their onward support. That includes Migrant Help, accommodation providers, DWP and jobcentres. I made the point earlier that most of the people we are talking about have been in this country for a very long time, and one would hope that they at least had some English.