Research by Scottish agencies highlights major problems in Section 4 support process

Partner agencies in Scotland have published findings on delays with Section 4 applications which demonstrate systemic problems with the system. The research, which was gathered from April 2017- April 2018, highlights the challenges that people face in accessing this vital support, which is only available to those who are destitute at the end of an asylum claim and fulfil certain eligibility criteria.

The partner agencies involved in the research were British Red Cross, Scottish Refugee Council (both DASS Project partners) and Govan Community Project. After the research was shared with the Home Office, Alex Fraser (British Red Cross), Sabir Zazai (Scottish Refugee Council), Cath McGee (DASS Project) and Owen Fenn (Govan Community Project) wrote to officials, arguing more work is needed to ‘ensure that appropriate steps and measures are implemented to prevent those who are eligible for support experiencing destitution’.

In the joint letter, they highlighted two key issues from their report; ‘The first is that even with support from experienced third sector organisations, delays in making Section 4 decisions leave people without support for several weeks, if not months. Secondly, given the significant delays in accessing Section 4 support, the 21 day notice period for terminating Section 95 support results in people experiencing destitution, despite being eligible for Section 4 support.’

In response, the authors call for a review of the support system itself, on the grounds that ‘many people who experience destitution do have eligibility for support.’ They also called for people to be kept on support for a ‘significantly longer timeframe’ after Section 95 is discontinued and for more advocacy support to be made available at this stage ‘to enable people to fully understand and engage with the options available to them.’

The research, which can be read in full here, identifies problems both with the timeframes and the process of applying for support, and a summary of its findings are shared below:

  • Of the 115 applicants who received a decision in the twelve month period, 76 were granted support on application. However, only 7 cases met the timeframe set by Home Office guidance (which is to receive a decision within 5 days).
  • Of the 115 applicants, 39 were turned down for support, and of these 28 cases were appealed. At least 21 then received a positive decision, bringing the total number of applicants who were successfully granted Section 4 support to 97 of the 115. However, these people had to endure destitution for an average of 17 additional days before getting support they were ultimately eligible for the entire time.
  • On average, people waited 37 days between making a Section 4 application and receiving a decision (this increased by 5 days since March 2018, when the new Home Office database, ATLAS, was introduced). When the monitoring came to an end on 30 April 2018, 32 applications were still pending. People in this group had been waiting an average of 53 days for a decision.
  • A key factor in delays was identified as the method for submitting applications. The organisations providing support used two different methods to submit applications; submitting by phone on the Asylum Helpline to Migrant Help (the only route available to people applying themselves) and emailing the Home Office directly through the AS correspondence inbox (a route which is open to professionals but not directly accessible to clients). The report found that submitting directly to the AS correspondence inbox resulted in a significantly shorter decision making timeframe – 24 days on average, against 57 days on average through the Asylum Helpline.
  • A further cause of delays was identified around the volume of further information requests that were issued to applicants. Of the 115 cases that had received decisions at the end of the monitoring period, 45% received at least one request for further information (RFI), with application waiting times increasing the more RFIs the applicants received.

This research makes important reading and reflects findings in the NACCOM annual survey about members seeing delays with granting of support. We’ll be in touch with members across the UK in the new year to explore ways of monitoring this issue more widely and raising a collective voice for change.

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