NACCOM is one of 120 charities to call for urgent action to be taken to review “severe failures” in the new Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Assistance (AIRE) contract, which delivers asylum support.

In a joint letter sent to the Minister for Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP, on October 30th, the coalition of charities – including NACCOM and many of our member projects – highlights major concerns with the delivery of the contract, which was awarded to Migrant Help in 2019.

The AIRE service is intended to provide advice and guidance to service users on the asylum process, their rights and the support available to them. It is also meant to be a single point of contact, independent from the accommodation providers and the Home Office, to report issues relating to housing. The new contracting arrangements, introduced for both AIRE and the Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts (AASC), were meant to offer improvements to the publicly recognised problems with the previous system.

However, the transition to the new contracts, which took place during Summer 2019, has instead resulted in drastically increased waiting times for asylum support applicants, meaning that NACCOM members are accommodating destitute people for longer whilst the support to which they are entitled is delayed.

Despite the Statement of Requirements for the AIRE contract stipulating that all calls should be answered in one minute, vulnerable people are waiting for hours to be connected to Migrant Help staff. The phoneline is the single point of contact and often the only avenue available to people in the asylum system to seek help with many issues, including critical matters such as destitution, safeguarding and unsafe or degrading accommodation. Insofar as people cannot access these central service points, the system is failing vulnerable people and exposing them to suffering and harm.

NACCOM’s Campaigns and Policy Coordinator, Jessie Seal, commented: “This is an urgent issue that the Home Office must address. Research by NACCOM and Refugee Action into Section 4 support delays showed that people were already waiting an average of 14 days for a decision on the bare minimum of support. Initial evidence shows that delays in receiving asylum support have increased significantly since the introduction of the new AIRE contract. This has made a system which was already broken even worse. Whilst the Home Office makes excuses, destitute people are being forced into homelessness.”

Read the joint letter.

Read the coverage in The Independent.