On this page we are seeking to address some of the key questions around destitution. Click on the questions below to find out more.

For further information, please visit our Resources page or contact us.

1) What is the definition of a refugee/asylum seeker/migrant?


“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government.

Asylum Seeker: A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.

Refused asylum seeker: A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers return home (for instance using the scheme ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ scheme) and a small minority are forcibly returned. The majority remain to appeal their decision or to make a fresh asylum claim, however this process can be very complex and lengthy, and often requires legal assistance.

Economic migrant: Someone who has moved to another country to work.

See the Refugee Council’s ‘Tell It Like It Is’ briefing for more on this.

2) Who faces destitution?

Destitution happens when people have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (that is, benefits or accommodation) and are unable to work. People in this situation can be asylum seekers, refugees or migrants.

Most of the people currently supported through the NACCOM Network are destitute asylum seekers, who have often come from countries like Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, DR Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. Most have fled torture, war, persecution and imprisonment. If they go back, they will face terrible problems, perhaps even death.

However, unless they sign up for voluntary return or are forcibly removed, they have no rights to any benefits, accommodation or work in the UK and are forced to work illegally, or to live on charity handouts to survive. Even a place in a hostel is virtually impossible, because most hostels only take people who are entitled to Housing Benefit.

Destitution can also be experienced by refugees, who have been granted ‘leave to remain’ but do not have their National Insurance number yet so are unable to claim benefits or access employment. These problems can be caused by delays in the system or by the short ‘move on’ period (28 days) that refugees have to leave their government accommodation after receiving their papers.

Destitution can also be faced by migrants who have not claimed asylum, but who have fallen on hard times since arriving in the UK, for instance being exploited or abused. Often as a result of failures in the immigration system and lack of legal advice, many people in these vulnerable situations can find themselves left with nothing to live on.

All need a safe place to live, and support to get the justice and help they need.

3) What does NACCOM do?

NACCOM is a network that exists to resource, encourage and support Members across the UK to provide practical support and accommodation to those facing destitution. We:

  • help establish new projects and support projects to expand capacity to meet need
  • share ideas and resources, for instance via our conferences and networking/training events
  • gather and disseminate information and data on the scale of destitution through our annual survey
  • raise awareness and promote understanding, through media and public speaking opportunities;
  • engage in collaborative working and shared learning, for instance as part of the Steering Group of the Strategic Alliance on Migrant Destitution and as a contributor to the work of Asylum Matters and City of Sanctuary.

Our 2016-17 Accommodation Survey, as detailed in our Annual report, highlights the estimated total number of Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Migrants accommodated by NACCOM Members in the last year was 1,907 (an increase of ~14% since 2015-16).

Of the projects involved in the survey, there were 19 housing schemes,  24 hosting schemes and 4 night shelters, collectively providing 272,931 nights of accommodation in 2016-17.

Housing schemes include support for refugees, who pay housing benefit as rent, as well as for destitute refused asylum seekers and others who have no recourse to public funds. Different types of housing schemes exist across the network, including partnerships with Housing Associations, agreements with Landlord/Privately owned properties, Managed Properties, Church-owned properties and properties owned by the project (for instance, bought with donations from supporters).

Hosting schemes are comprised of networks of volunteers offering a spare room to someone who would otherwise be homeless, either on an emergency basis or for a longer period of time. Schemes operate differently in various towns and cities and there is also an online scheme (Refugees at Home) that matches volunteers with those in need. We support new schemes to get established and develop their services- see the Hosting Toolkit for more details.

Night shelters provide a crucial source of emergency relief for those who would otherwise be street homeless. In some cases, bed spaces are available to destitute refused asylum seekers only but in other instances, bed spaces are offered to anyone in need. Some night shelters in the network are permanent but others are winter-only.

Find out more about the organisations involved by visiting our Projects page.

4) What about the Syrian Resettlement Scheme?

In addition to working with those facing destitution, some NACCOM Members are involved in supporting the Syrian Resettlement Scheme.

If you want to find out what is happening in your local area, visit this website or contact your local Strategic Migration Partnership (listed below):


South East of England

South West of England

East of England

East Midlands

West Midlands

North East of England

Yorkshire and Humber

Northern Ireland



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