The current Home Office policy change has resulted in a staggering 800% increase in the number of refugees sleeping rough on the streets of London within a mere two months. As the capital city houses around a quarter of the country’s asylum seekers, it is alarming to see many of them resorting to living in hotels. Previously, when an individual’s refugee status was accepted, they were typically given a generous 28-day period to leave their state-provided accommodation. However, the evidence presented by Sky News indicates that refugees now receive significantly less time, sometimes as little as a week, which inevitably leads to homelessness.
The root of this issue lies in a change made by the Home Office during the summer. Prior to August, the 28-day countdown would commence once a refugee received their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). This permit is essential for accessing Universal Credit and other forms of social support. Yet, the Home Office decided to change this policy and started counting down from the day a refugee received their asylum decision letter instead. Since the issuance of the BRP and other critical documents can often take weeks, individuals are being left with as little as seven days to secure alternative housing. Consequently, the number of people sleeping rough in London after leaving asylum accommodation skyrocketed from 11 in July to 102 in September, reflecting a shocking 827% increase.
The Red Cross has anticipated that without additional support, approximately 50,000 refugees could face homelessness across the entirety of the UK. Regrettably, the figures mentioned earlier only account for “visible” homelessness, or individuals sleeping rough on the streets. London’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, expresses concern over the presence of “hidden homeless” individuals. These are people who resort to sleeping on sofas, staying with friends, or finding other temporary accommodations that largely go unnoticed. Copley asserts that this unfortunate situation could easily be avoided if the government were to implement policy changes, such as extending the notice period given to refugees.
To fully comprehend the impact of these policies on vulnerable individuals, one must examine personal experiences. Adam (a pseudonym) fled Yemen, fearing for his life due to persecution. He endured a two-year wait for his asylum claim in the UK to be processed, spending that period completing his PhD. However, a mere few days after being granted official refugee status, he found himself among the homeless population. Adam describes his state of mind at that time, saying, “I was terrified. I had been dreaming about the opportunities, envisaging how I would start my life here in the UK. However, everything changed. Instead of the blue-sky scenario I had imagined, I found myself on the street. All I wanted was a dry and warm place to sleep. The dream vanished. It was solely about survival.” Thankfully, Adam was taken in by the charity Refugees at Home, which found a family willing to offer him shelter.
Organizations like Refugees at Home are currently experiencing extreme strain, as they attempt to assist refugees who are being cast out with minimal notice and facing the impending winter without homes. The executive director of Refugees at Home, Carly Whyborn, highlights the overwhelming demand placed on their resources, stating that three times more people have sought their help this year compared to the previous year. In October alone, the charity received 204 referrals, compared to a mere 69 in October 2022. A coalition consisting of various charities, including the Red Cross and Refugees at Home, alongside London mayor Sadiq Khan, is calling for an increase in the notice period from 28 days to 56 days. This extension would grant refugees ample time to find suitable accommodation and establish stability in their lives.
Addressing these concerns, the Home Office responded by stating that individuals granted asylum receive at least 28 days’ notice to vacate their asylum accommodation. They also highlighted Migrant Help and partner organizations, which provide support to newly recognized refugees by offering advice on accessing Universal Credit, navigating the labor market, and obtaining housing assistance. However, it is clear that a collaborative effort, involving more substantial notice periods and a comprehensive approach to housing support, is necessary to alleviate the growing homelessness crisis among refugees in London and the wider UK.