Today the British Red Cross releases ‘Still An Ordeal’, examining the experiences of new refugees who face destitution after moving on from asylum support. The report concludes that the 28-day move-on period ‘is leaving refugees on the brink of extreme poverty.’ Below we share a summary of the findings and recommendations.

‘Still An Ordeal’ builds on evidence gathered by the British Red Cross in 2014 (The Move on Period: An Ordeal for Newly Recognised Refugees), and finds that the 28-day period after getting refugee status is still plunging people into destitution.

The British Red Cross supports high numbers of newly recognised refugees at their destitution services across the UK; ‘In the first six months of 2018, 9,469 destitute refugees and people seeking asylum were supported – an increase of 2 per cent compared to the first half of 2017. Of those, nearly one in five had refugee status.’

The report acknowledges that policy changes have been made since 2014 around the move on period, but finds that ‘twenty-eight days is not enough time for newly recognised refugees to move onto mainstream benefits or find somewhere new to live.’  Indeed, the report finds that all of the refugees who took part in the research were left without basic needs, some for up to 72 days.

Key findings

Within the wider call for an extension to the move on period, the report focuses on problems inherent in the Universal Credit system which it describes as having made it ‘almost inevitable that refugees will be left without support’.

This is because of interrelated factors, including the 35-day wait to receive the first payment, issues with accessing advance payments and opening bank accounts, lack of language and IT support for the online system, confusion with Habitual Residency Tests, delays and mistakes with Biometric Residence Permits, and a lack of awareness about the move on period amongst refugees.

These issues are compounded by an inconsistent approach through the government’s ‘Post Grant Appointment Service’ (PGAS), which involves the Home Office making contact with newly recognised refugees to organise their first JobCentre Plus appointment for accessing benefits.

Crucially, however, the report found that whilst ‘it appear[s] to be effective at setting up the client’s first Jobcentre Plus (JCP) interview at an early point during the move-on period… we found no evidence that this led to an earlier first payment or mitigated the risk of destitution at the end of the move-on period.’ Researchers also found that amongst the service users in their sample group, ‘less than half had been contacted by the PGAS team after being granted asylum.’

On the risks of homelessness amongst refugees, the report features data from NACCOM members taken from our 2017-18 annual survey. This found that of the 3,471 people accommodated by member organisations over the year, 401 people (12%) were refugees who did not have access to benefits or housing when they approached local organisations for support.

Hazel Williams, NACCOM’s National Director, writes; ‘We welcome the findings of this important report and the attention it brings to the issue of the move-on period for refugees. This truly is an ordeal, yet, what’s worse, it is totally avoidable.

The government knows that more needs to be done to prevent destitution amongst those they have granted the right to stay in the UK.

Their efforts to date have focused on policies within the 28-day period but against a wider backdrop of significant welfare reform, the housing crisis and rising numbers facing street homelessness, it is untenable to think what they have already done is sufficient.

Decision makers need to read and heed the findings of this report if their promises of integration and welcome to refugees are to be anything more than lip service.’

Key recommendations

The British Red Cross report calls for various government departments to ensure that refugees access the support they need after the move on period. The recommendations are shared in full below.

Recommendation 1: The move-on period for newly recognised refugees should be extended to at least 56 days, allowing time to apply for a bank account and for benefits followed by the minimum 35-day waiting period for the first Universal Credit payment.

The Home Office should:

– Ensure that all documentation, especially Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs), are issued on time, are consistent with one another, and are accurate. If an individual’s BRP is to be sent to their solicitor rather than directly to them, the newly recognised refugee should be informed of this.

The Home Office and DWP should:

– In cases where payment of Universal Credit will not be payable within the move-on period due to a lack of a bank account, consider enabling the first payment to be made using the Asylum Support Payment Enablement card (ASPEN card) that the individual would have previously used to receive their asylum support payments.

Recommendation 2: The level of support and accessibility of information provided to newly recognised refugees to help them navigate the move-on period should be improved, ensuring they are fully informed of and engaged with the decisions they are making.

The Home Office and DWP should:

– Publish an evaluation of the impact the Post Grant Appointment Service (PGAS) has had, including information on the percentage of newly recognised refugees who have been successfully contacted and supported to make an initial appointment with their local Jobcentre Plus (JCP), as well as the number of refugees who are subsequently in receipt of their first benefits payment before the end of the move-on period.

– Publish information online regarding the expected process of the PGAS to increase understanding of what support will be provided, including an explanation of the ‘Vulnerable Persons Pathway’.

– Regularly review the ‘Help available from the Department for Work and Pensions for people who have been granted leave to remain in the UK’ information sheet provided to newly recognised refugees, including by consulting refugees on how it can be made more accessible and useful.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government should:

– Undertake an early evaluation of the Local Authority Asylum Support Liaison Officers (LAASLOs), including a process evaluation element and with a specific focus on the measurable outcomes for refugees.

The Home Office, DWP and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government should:

– Ensure that learning from the successful approaches taken nationally and locally to support refugees resettled to the UK via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and other similar programmes is applied to newly recognised refugees who have completed the asylum application process.

Recommendation 3: Refugees should be able to navigate the application process for Universal Credit with support as required and payments should be made as soon as possible.

The Home Office and DWP should:

– As part of the PGAS, ensure that refugees are offered a suitable interpreter at any appointment made with the JCP.

DWP should:

– Increase the accessibility of the online journal, to-do list and guidance by translating them into the main languages used by refugees, and adding audio prompts where suitable.

– Ensure Universal Credit case managers and work coaches working with newly recognised refugees are aware of the barriers the online Universal Credit system creates, and enable staff to provide additional support as required.

– Ensure that newly recognised refugees are able to apply for Universal Credit in person at a JCP (and not only told to go and apply for it independently online) and ensure that advance payments are offered where necessary.

– Clarify that refugees are not required to undertake the ‘habitual residence’ part (second part) of the habitual residence test (HRT), but just the ‘right to reside’ part (first part).

Recommendation 4: Newly recognised refugees should be able to quickly and easily open bank accounts.

The Home Office should:

– Provide official reference letters to banks that can be used by newly recognised refugees, along with their BRP, to open a bank account without needing to provide additional proof of address. The letter should set out the rights of the refugee, along with the relevant legislation.

– Provide official guidance to banks on the level of documentation available to refugees, including information as to why providing proof of address may not be possible.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should:

– As part of the wider work on financial inclusion, issue clear guidance to banks regarding the documentation that newly recognised refugees have and the barriers they face when attempting to provide proof of address.

– Work with UK Finance to provide training to bank staff on barriers refugees face when attempting to open bank accounts, especially in areas that are likely to have considerable numbers of refugees.

To read the summary of the British Red Cross report, click here.

To read the full report by the British Red Cross, click here.

Want to take action? Why not share the report with your MP and tell them your own local experiences of this issue? We need decision makers to be aware of and impacted by this issue if we are to see lasting change.