How can frontline workers better support homeless refugees?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017 - 3:59pm

Homeless refugees face unique challenges in accessing support from Local Authorities. The Refugee Council has published new guidance to help refugees make homelessness applications in England.

migrant man

I work with people after they have been formally recognised as refugees in the UK, providing advice and guidance on how to access accommodation and become financially independent. Every day at the Refugee Council, we see people facing homelessness and destitution within a month of receiving refugee status, as the Home Office terminates their support after 28 days. Refugees often continue to struggle to access a basic level of income and suitable accommodation for months and years afterwards.

For many of the refugees we support, housing options are very limited. We refer refugees to night shelters, hostels and refuges and assist them into private rented accommodation. Such accommodation is in high demand. There are usually long waiting lists for hostel spaces and most private rented accommodation in London requires deposit money and rent in advance. Having such a lump sum of money is impossible for most new refugees who are usually forbidden from working while their asylum claims are being considered and they live on just over £5 a day. Homelessness is unavoidable for many new refugees.

Refugees are eligible to make homelessness applications and should be able to access accommodation from a local authority if they are not intentionally homeless, and have a priority need for accommodation. Over the years, we have supported many newly recognised refugees who should be owed a duty to be housed by their local authorities due to vulnerability caused by health issues. We have witnessed how difficult it is for those refugees to access accommodation from local authorities, despite being eligible.

Newly recognised refugees are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to making homelessness applications, as they have little access to information or guidance on their new rights, on how the processes work and how to challenge unfair practice. Many may not have sufficient English language skills to understand the complex applications and can struggle to articulate their needs and health conditions. Refugees we have worked with have sometimes faced problems even getting through the doors of their local authority housing departments. This is an issue that has recently been acknowledged by a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into homelessness, which reported that many people are not able to access housing support from local authorities due to common gatekeeping practices. With no formal integration programme in England for newly recognised refugees, they are left to survive alone. For many refugees, this means being homeless without the support of a local authority.

In the absence of a national programme to support integration (the government integration programme for refugees was abolished in 2011), refugees often turn to organisations, community groups, and individuals around the country that work to support refugees. People in these organisations do not always have experience of navigating the homelessness application process, so we have produced a guide to help them do so.

Over the past two years, with support from Trust for London, we have been monitoring homelessness applications made by refugees who are vulnerable, as a result of physical and mental health conditions. We have used this evidence to write a guide to help anyone supporting refugees to make homelessness applications. This guide provides helpful information and advice for those providing that support. It brings together information about the homelessness application process and information about refugees; with example scenarios and a template letter.

We hope that this guide will help refugees to secure the accommodation they are entitled to, so they have the stability to be able to start to rebuild their lives in safety.

Please click on the following link to download the guide and template homelessness application letter. 

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Chloe Morgan

Senior Welfare Adviser at the Refugee Council

Chloe Morgan is the Senior Welfare Adviser at the Refugee Council’s Refugee Advice Project in London. She provides welfare and housing advice to recently recognised refugees in the London area.

Twitter: @refugeecouncil