Significant numbers of new refugees in Greater Manchester (GM) are being forced into precarious housing or street homelessness because the Home Office is intentionally evicting them from asylum accommodation, a situation the Deputy Mayor for Greater Manchester has described as the government “Kicking [people] out of their homes […] In a sense, evicting them to the street.”
Getting refugee status should be a hugely positive experience for people who have fled war or persecution. Having been warehoused in the UK’s asylum system for months or years waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, people are finally given the legal status to get on with their lives. Instead, the reality is that large numbers are facing immediate housing insecurity and homelessness on the streets of Greater Manchester in the middle of winter.
The situation has been caused by government mismanagement of the asylum system and a complete lack of coordination with local services and housing options. As a result, we are seeing highly vulnerable people with no alternative other than street homelessness, extreme service pressures on local authorities in Greater Manchester (who are already struggling with existing housing stresses), the capacity of voluntary sector services being overwhelmed, and negative impacts on community cohesion.
“The information we have to impart to people is that there is nothing there. There’s just nothing, there’s nothing that we can offer in terms of somewhere to get a bed. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to tell this to people and the response is complete incredulity – they say but we’ve been granted, we’ve got a positive decision. We have to explain you are very likely to be as vulnerable as you were all across Europe. You can see people are finding it hard to process that realisation – you’ve pinned your hopes on the end goal being granted. The fear of being sent back has gone. But it’s minus degrees, you’ve got no universal credit because it hasn’t started and you’re being kicked out of your asylum accommodation. Personally I’m finding this very overwhelming – the knowledge of people being in the dark and freezing cold in winter.” – a voluntary sector worker in Manchester
Why is this happening?
The government’s hostile environment policies mean people’s ability to find and fund accommodation is dependent on their immigration status. People seeking asylum in Greater Manchester are usually
- banned from working
- legally unable to rent private accommodation
- stopped from accessing housing benefits or other mainstream benefits
- prevented from opening a bank account.
This means people who are destitute – i.e. most people, given these restrictions – are forced to find home in asylum accommodation (managed by private contractor Serco) and, over the last few years, increasingly in hotels used as contingency accommodation. This is the reality for thousands of people in Greater Manchester.
When someone is recognised as a refugee, they have 28 days before being evicted from their asylum accommodation. In that time, they are expected to find their own accommodation. 28 days has never been long enough for people to open a bank account, find accommodation, access mainstream benefits and find employment, but the situation has been made significantly worse because
- the Prime Minister’s parliamentary commitment to ‘clear the asylum backlog’ by the end of 2023 has meant the number of people finally receiving an asylum decision has increased at pace. However, the rate of asylum decision making has been decided in isolation from place-based planning or conversation with local services about their capacity to support significant numbers of newly recognised refugees at the same time. Some local authorities are seeing asylum decisions for hundreds of residents a month.
- in the summer of 2023, the Home Office changed its processes so that in many cases people were given just seven days’ notice to leave their asylum accommodation. This practice change has since reversed back to 28 days but has not been adequately communicated or in some cases adhered to.
- this Government’s funding for local authorities to support people seeking asylum is inadequate and piecemeal. The insufficient nature of the offer means any homelessness prevention work while people are waiting for an asylum decision is virtually impossible, and new refugees are left with a telephone line for support.
Edith lives in Greater Manchester and received her refugee status at the end of October. She asked her local council for help as a person who could become homeless. The council said they could not help until she received her eviction notice. Edith received the letter in early December – it said she would be evicted the week before Christmas. She went back to her council, and the best they could suggest is that she got a tent to camp out in fount of the council building for the Rough Sleepers Team to evidence that she is street homeless. They put her name forward for A Bed for Every Night accommodation, but there was a 120-person waiting list. The council strongly recommended she try and stay with friends or gain support from a church or mosque. Despite help from a voluntary sector organisation to make her case, her eviction was not postponed until after Christmas. In the end Edith was able to find a friend who put her up until New Year, after which she slept on the floor of the mosque. She is now sleeping on the floor at a friend’s shared house, unable to enter the property until the evening so that the landlord does not see her. Unless she is “seen” on the streets as homeless the council seems unable to support her. Edith does not want to sleep on the street in a tent even though this could speed up her support. She is scared.
How is this affecting Greater Manchester?
- Rising property prices, inflated rental prices, an acute shortage of affordable housing and gentrification have meant that it is increasingly difficult for all residents of the city region including new refugees to find somewhere safe and affordable to call home. In this context it is particularly important that Home Office maladministration does not further adversely impact local services and communities.
- Greater Manchester is particularly affected by Home Office actions because of
- the pace of Home Office asylum decisions for GM residents: over 2,000 single person households in GM were projected to be recognised as refugees between August and December 2023 in addition to approximately 500 families. This is a doubling, in some locations a trebling, of the number of people at risk of homelessness as a result of evictions from asylum accommodation.
- people naturally moving to GM in search of housing options and community ties after receiving a positive decision, for example black and brown LGBTQI+ people being evicted from asylum accommodation in rural parts of the North West.
- In response to the Home Office’s evictions, Salford council has set up a welfare hub over winter. Staff have bought sun loungers and blow-up beds to put in communal rooms after people started erecting tents to sleep in outside the civic centre – most people sleeping in the welfare hub are new refugees.
- Emergency bedspaces targeted at people sleeping rough have been set up in most GM local authorities now to cope with increased demand.
- We have heard of housing options staff in tears at having no solutions for new refugees who will spend the night homeless.
- Significant numbers of new refugees are appearing in rough sleeping figures and in temporary accommodation across GM: by the end of 2023 one local authority had over 80 new refugees sleeping rough having recently been evicted from asylum accommodation.
- Council leaders are clear that Home Office mismanagement risks the sustainability of homelessness work, including flagship A Bed Every Night emergency accommodation. In December 2023, Andy Burnham announced an increase in bedspaces “over the winter due to the sharp rise in the number of people seeking support [..] The main cause of this pressure is the Home Office. We need an urgent review of their approach to accommodation and more help for councils.”
- Many voluntary sector services have had to reorient their normal work because people are coming to them with such immediate, urgent housing needs. For example, one organisation that supports people with employment told us they have effectively been turned into a homelessness advice service. At GMIAU people are contacting their immigration solicitors asking for housing advice.
- We have heard of tensions between groups of rough sleepers, as those newly made homeless are placed in unacceptable situations because of lack of capacity.
- Health services tell us Home Office actions are leaving them struggling – GPs are being asked to provide evidence of why people cannot leave their asylum accommodation in 28 days and cannot keep up with eviction timescales.
What needs to be done?
“Without a change in the conflicting policies of government departments, alongside some immediate urgent offer of resources, we are not going to be able to keep people off the streets where they are extremely vulnerable”. – Deputy Mayor for Greater Manchester
- The Home Office must stop intentionally evicting new refugees until there is sufficient housing for people to move on to in their local area. Local authorities and voluntary sector services in GM are clear that there are currently insufficient housing options for new refugees. Until this is resolved, evictions should be paused or slowed down.
- When people are evicted from asylum accommodation, to prevent homelessness the Home Office should give people 56 days’ notice, in recognition of the actual time it takes to open bank accounts, access universal credit, find accommodation and secure employment, and in line with the Homelessness Prevention Duty.
- The Home Office must proactively listen and learn from people directly affected by the asylum process. The lived experience of new refugees, and the services that support them in their localities, must be acted upon to in order to properly plan asylum decision-making that does not result in significant homelessness.
- Home Office asylum decision making plans must be clearly communicated with local statutory and voluntary-sector services neither of which currently have workable information to plan the impact of asylum decision making in GM.
- Government must provide urgent localised financial support to address the short-term numbers of people presenting as homeless following asylum decisions, and in the longer-term disinvest from private contractors and revert to investment in local communities.
- Services supporting new refugees should disseminate and make use of GMIAU and Greater Manchester Law Centre’s guide to help people in asylum accommodation who receive an asylum decision.
- This Government must stop fuelling division between different groups of people facing housing injustice, in an attempt to avoid attention on its failures. As members of GM’s Housing Justice Network, we commit to acting in solidarity between people facing different housing issues, to develop visions of housing justice where everyone – no matter skin colour, class background, immigration status – is safe and secure to live their lives as part of thriving, flourishing communities in our city-region.
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