The past year and the Covid-19 pandemic has shone new light on the collective need to keep our communities safe. We’ve seen measures, like the Everyone In campaign, protect more people from destitution and homelessness than was thought politically possible. This is because it was understood that homelessness is a high risk factor for Covid-19. But now, once again the Home Office is fighting in the courts to try to evict some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, putting them and all of us at risk.
In March 2020, evictions of people receiving asylum support were paused, in recognition of the public health risk. At the end of April 2021, the Home Office confirmed that they would restart evictions for people who have been refused asylum and do not have an outstanding appeal. In practice this means evicting people from their accommodation and making them homeless. Thousands would be affected – it’s estimated that 1000 people in the UK on Section 95 support would be affected, and 3000 on Section 4 support. Those on Section 95 have no right of appeal when the support is withdrawn. This means they are at particularly high risk of destitution if they don’t receive advice. That’s 4,000 people being threatened with being thrown out onto the streets while Covid-19 is still circulating.
The Home Office first planned to restart evictions in October 2020. Joe, GMIAU’s Destitution Caseworker, told us then: “Many of the people we help are now living on edge. They’re terrified that they will soon become street homeless if the Home Office discontinue their support”. People seeking asylum are not permitted to work and have no recourse to public funds. The loss of asylum support means the loss of their only lifeline. The informal support many relied on in “normal” times – sofa surfing and staying with friends – still isn’t possible now due to ongoing fear of the virus.
Since last autumn, legal action by GMIAU, Greater Manchester Law Centre and others has successfully prevented asylum evictions. This fight in the courts is still ongoing, and on 6th May the court adjourned the hearing because the home secretary did not know under which powers she was providing support to people during the pandemic. The court case will resume at the end of May and it’s expected that evictions will start again by mid-June.
This means that since November 2020 people have been able to stay in their accommodation. They weren’t evicted over winter and while we are still in lockdown measures. And we’re still doing all we can to protect people from the evictions that are likely to start again this summer. We’re contacting people we know and supporting individuals with their applications. We’re reaching out to others – giving advice in hotels, putting advice sheets under doors, and working with other organisations to reach as many as possible. And we’re raising our concerns with the Home Office and local authorities.
What can you do about it?
The government have made it no secret that their view of immigration is hostile, and that they want to make the UK asylum system even harsher. Their proposed “New Plan for Immigration” frames people seeking asylum as numbers, not human beings. But while we must operate within this national framework, luckily not everyone agrees. There is space for compassionate local solutions. For example, Greater Manchester Combined Authority spoke out against asylum evictions in December. We hope local leaders will continue to stand up for what’s right.