Principles for asylum dispersal
From a briefing by Asylum Matters and NACCOM
Ensuring that people seeking asylum receive adequate temporary accommodation and support while they wait for a decision on their application should be a fundamental aspect of a fair and just asylum system. However, this is often not the case, with asylum dispersal failing to adequately support the needs of those seeking asylum.
The briefing is aimed at voluntary sector organisations who are interested in working with their local authorities and other partners, so as to improve asylum dispersal in their local area. It includes a series of principles for good asylum dispersal and case studies of successful partnerships between local authorities and voluntary sector organisations.
What is dispersal?
The policy of dispersal of those seeking asylum accommodation in the UK was introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Under section 95 of this act, people seeking asylum can apply for support while waiting for their claim (or appeal) to be considered. Support can be for accommodation and/or subsistence, according to their circumstances and on condition that they satisfy a destitution test.
Regional dispersal policy introduced in 2000 provided that, as a general rule, people seeking asylum should be accommodated in areas where there is a greater supply of suitable and cheaper accommodation. However, only half of local authorities at the moment participate in delivering dispersal accommodation.
What is happening to dispersal?
In April 2022, the Home Office informed local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales that they would all become asylum dispersal areas. This would, according to Government, allow people seeking asylum who are currently accommodated in hotels to be moved to more appropriate and cost-effective dispersed accommodation. An informal consultation was launched to enable local authorities and Government to discuss how full asylum dispersal will work in detail.
The Home Office has confirmed that primary consultation with the voluntary sector would occur through Strategic Migration Partnerships (SMPs) - example here.
Principles for asylum dispersal
The strength of the dispersal support model is that it has the potential to provide people seeking asylum with accommodation that is safe and good quality, located within communities which are equipped to support them. At its core, dispersal should be a process of moving someone to a place where they can build a life and the support system should be oriented to enable integration to begin on day one. However, this is not possible when people seeking asylum are housed in institutional accommodation – such as hotels or military barracks - which are often segregated away from society, with negative impacts on wellbeing and community cohesion.
It is vital that relevant authorities in areas new to dispersal follow various principles and measures to ensure that the model is delivered safely and appropriately. This includes the type and quality of accommodation offered, but also the ways that wider support systems, including the voluntary sector, are engaged.
Below is a list of principles and expectations that Asylum Matters and Naccom would anticipate within any local authority area that is delivering asylum dispersal.
1. Safe and good quality accommodation within communities
Asylum dispersal should provide people seeking asylum with safe accommodation within communities which are equipped with the resources to support them. Property standards for dispersal accommodation should be managed and monitored in the same way as other types of accommodation.
2. Adequate legal aid advice
All people seeking asylum in a dispersal area should be able to conveniently and independently access good quality professional immigration advice, including free legal advice and representation (e.g.: Legal Aid) if required.
3. Properly funded and engaged voluntary sector
The voluntary sector should be recognised as a key stakeholder in delivering support locally. Local voluntary organisations should be sufficiently resourced by local authorities to meet service demand and address support issues and requirements that are not met by Government and contracted agencies. The voluntary sector should be involved early on in setting up a new area or reviewing existing provision and properly resourced for the numbers of people arriving.
4. Consultation with local communities and people within the asylum system
There should be proper consultation with communities, including not only the local authority, but voluntary sector agencies, and people with lived experience of the asylum system. New dispersal areas should have a plan for community cohesion, with clearly established expectations both for those seeking asylum and those in wider communities.
5. Information sharing
All relevant bodies, including local authorities and the voluntary sector, should receive sufficient prior notification of the number of people being dispersed and the areas they will be moved into. Information sharing between the Home Office, accommodation providers, Migrant Help, local authorities, Strategic Migration Partnerships (SMPs), and the voluntary sector, should be improved to ensure that people are able to access support that they require and are entitled to.
6. Integration from day one
People within the asylum system must be fully briefed on when and where they are due to be moved and also supported when evicted from Home Office accommodation. Investment should be made in signposting and local information services to help new arrivals navigate local systems and services in their local area.
7. Trauma-informed mental health support and tailored healthcare systems
The Home Office should work with local health services to map out local healthcare provision in dispersal areas and ensure that everyone receiving asylum support is supported to register with a GP, as well as access specialist healthcare where needed, particularly mental health support.
8. Safeguarding framework
There should be a collective safeguarding framework between housing providers, Migrant Help, the Home Office, local authorities and voluntary sector agencies, where risks and issues are addressed proactively.
9. ESOL provision
English as a Second Language (ESOL) provision should be available to those who need it from day one.
10. Public transport concessions
The prohibitive effect of transport costs when living on asylum support must be considered, especially in areas further from major cities where services, support, places of worship and shops are located.
11. Move on support
Move on opportunities for people leaving the asylum system need to be well understood; at first around access to affordable permanent housing and ensuring local authorities act in advance of the day of eviction from Home Office accommodation, and subsequently around access to training and employment. Migrant Help does provide support over the phone with their partner Reed in Partnership, but funded voluntary sector organisations providing local knowledge and advice on a face-to-face basis is key to ensuring that people are well supported.
12. Move on accommodation
It is important to consider the availability of move on accommodation. Mapping exercises should be carried out to understand the housing options for refugees and the expected demand for temporary provision. This will help to assess future demand and mitigate the risk of homelessness among people leaving the system.
Read the full briefing here.
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From a briefing by Asylum Matters and NACCOM, 28/03/2023