Refugees left homeless by Home Office IT failure

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The Home Office is still failing to provide support to destitute refugees within legal timeframes a year after Refugee Action flagged up the problem 

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9th July 2018 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Refugees are being left homeless and destitute because of delays in the Home Office systems, including a new IT system, a charity has said.

Refugee Action said it had to step in to prevent a six-months pregnant woman being forced to sleep on the street after she waited more than three months for a response to her family’s asylum support application.

A new Home Office IT System, introduced in February this year, saw average waiting times for emergency support for destitute refugees soar by 325% from 12 days to 51 days in April the charity says.

Another woman waited 170 days for an asylum support decision – during which time she gained refugee status and never received the help she was entitled to.

Refugee Action said the delays defy legislation setting out the Home Office’s duty to prevent people seeking asylum becoming destitute while their claims are processed, a process which can take years and during which the vast majority of people are banned from working. The support is only available to people who can demonstrate they will be destitute within 14 days, however, people are waiting an average of 46 days to receive it.

The charity analysed 162 applications for asylum support made between May 2017 and May 2018 through its projects in Birmingham, London and Manchester.

The figures show people at risk of homelessness and with no means of supporting themselves are waiting three times longer than they should to receive Section 95 support, which provides housing and a small amount of money (just £5.39 a day) for essential living costs, including food, clothing and transport.

Some are waiting far longer – five people waited over 100 days before their application for S95 support was granted.

People applying for support, which is available to some of the most vulnerable families, who have been refused asylum waited an average of 36 days for a decision on their application.

Refugee Action is supporting people forced to sleep on park benches, in mosques or on friends’ sofas.

Mahmoud Salem, who fled persecution in Egypt due to his Nubian minority status, was homeless for two and a half months while he waited for Section 4 asylum support, during which time he slept on the floor of his mosque and relied on friends for food.

“Someone who has come just to apply for asylum, they just want to live and be alive,” Dr Salem, who was teaching public policy in Kuwait before he claimed asylum, says. “I had a stable life and now I am in a very bad situation.”

Refugee Action released this latest analysis of asylum support a year after the publication of its report Slipping through the cracks, which looked at the impact of long delays on people seeking asylum.

It said the Home Office has failed to act on the report’s key recommendations, which include making support decisions within the destitution test timeframe of 14 days and putting in place a transparent approach to decision-making on asylum support

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Forcing people who have fled violence and persecution into homelessness and poverty in Britain is morally indefensible.

“We’ve repeatedly asked the Home Office to address the ongoing delays and IT failures that are leaving vulnerable people destitute and unable to feed themselves or their families, and to be open and accountable for its decisions.

“These cruel delays are further evidence of an asylum system in urgent need of reform to ensure it is fair, effective and compassionate.”