Evictions from asylum accommodation for people who have been refused asylum, which have been paused for the majority of the Covid-19 pandemic, are expected to resume in the near future. This follows several legal challenges, which have halted the evictions on public health and discrimination grounds.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have been temporarily protected from homelessness due to two key emergency measures: a suspension of evictions from asylum accommodation by the Home Office; and the ‘Everyone In’ policy directive from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) which, alongside equivalent measures from devolved governments, has allowed Local Authorities to accommodate everyone at risk of homelessness, regardless of immigration status or No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions.
As UK restrictions lift and government departments wind down emergency measures, the risk of street homelessness faced by people who have been refused asylum and others with NRPF once again becomes acute. Destitution is always unacceptable and during the pandemic the risks associated with it have become clearer than ever.
Why does this matter
“Will I ever feel safe?”
Failure to provide adequate shelter and safety for all people regardless of their immigration status is always unacceptable and the immediate and long-term impact of homelessness on individuals is immeasurable. As Sam, an expert by experience supported by NACCOM, explained to the Housing Communities and Local Government (HCLG) committee in December 2020:
“I was sofa-surfing for over a year, trying to find accommodation. I really struggled to access services due to no recourse to public funds, and I ended up sleep-deprived for weeks in a fast-food restaurant. This period was really scary and a difficult time for me, and I remember asking myself, “Will I ever feel safe?”
In the context of Covid-19, data shows that people from Black and minoritised communities, people living in areas of multiple deprivation, and people who are homeless are at heightened risk of contracting Covid-19, whilst significant barriers remain in place for many people from migrant communities to receive the vaccine. In a just recovery from the pandemic, everyone deserves to feel safe and no one should be left behind.
In July 2020, a Home Affairs Select Committee report detailed some of the safeguards that would need to be put in place before evictions could safely recommence, including consultation with key stakeholders such as local authorities. Despite this, throughout the pandemic engagement with key stakeholders has been minimal, with the Home Office failing to consult Local Authorities on their decision to resume cessations in September 2020, and providing no details on either the nature of Public Health advice or their assessment of the equalities duty regarding cessations for people with a negative asylum decision.
The Home Office’s plans to restart evictions into homelessness have been met by opposition from many voices across the UK; in September 2020, this included Local Authorities (including Glasgow City Council and Leeds City Council), members of Parliament, elected Mayors, and hundreds of organisations across the migration and homelessness sectors. This is unsurprising given that when the Home Office forces people into homelessness, it is Local Authorities, local communities and voluntary groups who are left to try and fill the gaps. Local Authorities who participate in asylum dispersal want to welcome people seeking asylum and help them rebuild their lives, but they can only do this effectively if the Home Office changes these policies and works collaboratively with communities to improve the system and fund it fairly. Despite the clear toll of current policy on individuals and communities, the Government’s New Plan for Immigration contains proposals that could strip away the very limited government support available to people who have received a negative decision, and will also increase the number of people subject to NRPF and vulnerable to destitution and homelessness.
What needs to happen: no return to business as usual
When the UK first introduced initial lockdown measures, the Home Office was quick to act to suspend evictions and support people seeking asylum to remain in accommodation. This was the right thing to do, allowing people who would otherwise be homeless to follow public health guidance, stay at home and stay safe. The fact that these steps were taken has shown us what is possible; we cannot now go back to normal when ‘normal’ means life lived on the street and in destitution for so many people in our society. As we rebuild, we strongly urge the UK Government to ensure a just and humane transition from emergency measures and put a permanent end to policies that cause homelessness and destitution.
We recommend that the Home Office:
We will be working with our members and partners in the coming weeks to plan some advocacy actions, and will communicate these with you as soon as possible.
➡️ December 2020 – “If you are a human being, you should be able to access your basic needs like food, cleaning yourself and staying in accommodation” – Abeo’s story; experiences of homelessness during the pandemic – NACCOM