Homelessness among refugees and how you can help 

Homelessness is on the rise this winter, especially among people recently granted asylum in the UK.

So last week, JPIT partnered with Housing Justice and Compassionate Communities to hold a webinar exploring how churches can respond.

Why is homelessness an increasing issue for refugees?

When an individual is successful in their asylum application, and granted ‘leave to –remain’ status, they are required to leave the accommodation provided to people seeking asylum. Standard procedure should be for people to receive a letter giving 28 days notice of eviction, but in reality, people can get as little as 7 days’ notice. In this period, people are expected to find new accommodation and move out.[1]

It is worth noting that even the 28 days’ notice, which is very little time anyway, is incompatible with the Universal Credit system , through which most people’s housing costs are met, as this has a wait time of at least 5 weeks before the first payment of a new claim. To add further complication, currently the notice of decision for the asylum claim is often not recognised as sufficient evidence to enable people to apply for housing and other support. In order to apply for rented housing from a private landlord, individuals usually need to be able to provide proof of 6 months employment. Asylum seekers are unable to do paid work. Yet to find employment, individuals need a permanent address. This presents an impossible ‘Catch-22’ situation, in already difficult and stressful circumstances, and is a prime cause of homelessness.

The No Accommodation Network (NACOMM) reported that, in 2023, adults with refugee status were the largest group to be supported by them, seeing a 50% increase from the previous year. This is the first time since 2017-18 that people who have been refused asylum were not the main group being supported by NACOMM. This rise in homelessness amongst refugees is consistent with the national rise in refugee homelessness across England.[2] In 2022-23, NACOMM accommodated 63% more people than the previous year.

London Faith Leaders letter

At the end of last year, the Bishop of London coordinated a joint letter to the Immigration Minister, expressing concern about the number of refugees experiencing homelessness[3]. The letter was signed by 45 London faith leaders, including Revd Phil Bernard, Regional Leader of the London Baptists, and Revd George Watt, Moderator of Thames North Synod of the URC. The letter called for the Home Office to consider rethinking a change made in August, which means that refugees often have much less than 28 days’ notice about the end of their asylum support and housing. The letter asked for the extension of the eviction notice period to 56 days, to make it compatible with Universal Credit application time.[4]

Faith communities so often are on the frontline of support for refugees and asylum seekers, with their doors open to receive people and offer help. Yet so many refugee and homelessness services, charities and communities seeking to help, are overstretched and closed to referrals.

What can churches and individuals do?

Refugees Welcome sign

A story of welcome from St Paul’s Church, Marylebone

St Paul’s Church, Marylebone, were part of an effort to welcome Afghan refugees arriving at a nearby hotel. The church community responded to a request from the Afghan women for space and facilities to make their own clothes. The wider church community offered donations of textiles and equipment, and gradually formed relationships with the women. This was an important time for the Afghan women, who could spend time together outside of the hotel doing something important to them, but it was also significant for the people from the church, who were shaped by these relationships which have had a long-lasting effect.[5]

You can hear more stories like this, from Compassionate Communities, here: https://www.compassionatecommunitieslondon.org.uk/themes-of-work/slavery-refugees-asylum/london-stories-of-welcome  

Practical tips

At the webinar, Bethan from Praxis outlined some helpful practical tips for churches and individuals seeking to help homeless refugees, or refugees who have recently been granted leave–to–remain.

  • Prepare people who are still in the asylum system about what might happen when they receive their status
  • Encourage people to contact their local authority, even if they do not fall into the priority group (people with children, a disability or significant health problems) for accommodation
  • Tell people not to refuse the first accommodation offer they receive, as they will be unlikely to be offered another one
  • Encourage them to open a bank account as soon as they can, this will speed the process further down the line – asylum seekers can open a bank account
  • Encourage individuals to register with a GP, particularly if they have health problems, to be able to evidence any health issues that might make them a higher priority for housing
  • Encourage people to start a Universal Credit application as soon as they can; this is worth starting early as it takes a long time and is complicated.
  • Offer help with language or computer facilities to support them to make these applications and registrations
  • Tell them about the Refugee Integration Loan scheme[6], which is limited and slow, but available
  • Offer a spare room in your house to host an asylum seeker, or as a lodging for someone recently granted leave to remain. If you feel you are able to offer this, get in touch with Housing Justice if you are London based, or NACOMM for the rest of the UK.
  • You might also want to raise this issue with your MP

[1] Charities warn of refugee homelessness crisis in England this winter | Homelessness | The Guardian

[2] NACCOM-ImpactReport_2023-12-19-FINAL-on-WEBSITE.pdf

[3] Faith leaders call on Home Office to re-examine seven-day evictions practice – Diocese of London (anglican.org)

[4] Change asylum-claim system, say faith leaders (churchtimes.co.uk)

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KytH4Rt01lI&t=189s

[6] Refugee integration loan: Overview – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)


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