Are homelessness services the last refuge for refugees?

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 - 3:03pm

Imagine how terrifying it must feel for people arriving in the UK to claim asylum after fleeing persecution, trafficking, war and other traumatic events.

Young male looking into the camera

The asylum system here in the UK is confusing, bureaucratic and often illogical for those that navigate through it. The last thing that these refugees should experience after initially settling in this country is to find themselves destitute and homeless.

For newly recognised refugees, the period of moving on from Home Office support accommodation can leave many at risk of destitution and homelessness. Many refugees have little or no experience of working in the UK and initially are very reliant on the welfare state, which makes this transition period even more critical. Getting effective support from the welfare state and seeking support from your local authority is difficult for anyone who is homeless, let alone newly recognised refugees. That’s why Homeless Link has published updated guidance on working with refugees who find themselves street homeless.

What role do homelessness agencies play in supporting refugees?

Many of our members work in areas with high levels of asylum support accommodation, and for those that work in and around big cities such as London, they come into contact with refugees attempting to move areas after being successfully granted status in this country.

Homelessness agencies have a critical role to play in ensuring their services are well-catered and prepared for refugees, as they face considerable barriers in trying to access accommodation. Provision of adequate English language translation services, clear signposting to immigration advice services, therapeutic and mental health support are key to delivering best practice. 

What can I do in my service?

Think about how diverse and accommodating your service is for asylum seekers and refugees from outside of Europe. Take steps to improve the accessibility of your services, especially around the provision of English language and translation services, as many refugees may not have perfect English. Try to involve mixed genders in your staff and volunteers, and avoid assumptions about people coming to your service, based on nationalities. 

Many refugees have a very short space of time to pull together necessary identity documentation, proof of status and national insurance numbers – all crucial for signing up quickly to welfare support through the DWP. Training your staff to understand the asylum process is so important, and knowing how to provide advice and support at critical points can prevent unnecessary confusion and potential homelessness.

Clearly communicating available housing options for refugees can go a long way to managing expectations. Many refugees face challenges in sourcing suitable private rented sector (PRS) accommodation and some have unrealistic expectations about the availability of council housing. Homelessness agencies can utilise their experience in PRS accommodation and in local authority support, especially around issues such as evidencing Local Connection.

Many refugees have complex medical and mental health issues and are eligible for support and accommodation from local authorities in just the same way as anybody else. Where possible, accompany refugees to any appointment when approaching local authorities for support to make a homelessness application. The Refugee Council have some excellent in-depth guidance, providing step by step support to make homelessness applications under Part VII of the Housing Act.

How do I use this resource?

Homeless Link's updated guidance is available to download here. We encourage you to share this with all new members of staff and raise the issue of working with refugees in a staff meeting.