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Getting Access to Adequate Housing and Appropriate Support for Survivors During Covid-19

Zoe Dexter

The precarious living situations of adults and children who are without secure immigration status include transient, poor quality housing and overcrowded living situations which make it impossible for them to isolate/socially distance effectively.  Some of our clients are in initial accommodation with over 100 people held in a single building. People in this type of accommodation are not able to social distance effectively let alone self-isolate if needed.  

Others are in asylum support accommodation which is shared accommodation sometimes with up to 20/30 individuals in a building.  Many of our clients are speaking of their distress at not being able to social distance or self-isolate satisfactorily.  This accommodation, often in shared bedrooms, is inappropriate for many of our clients because of their experiences and their need to manage their mental health and it is especially so during this period of self-isolation.

Because our clients lack access to the right to work or to claim mainstream benefits, they live in financial hardship on extremely low subsistence funds which means it is difficult for them to purchase essential supplies. Those in receipt of support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 receive £37.75 per person per week (with an additional £3 if the applicant is pregnant, £5 for children under 1 and £3 for children under 3). The basic rate of support for those in receipt of support under Section 4(2) of the above Act is £35.39 per person per week, which cannot be spent in cash or at shops which do not accept VISA cards. These cards cannot be used to purchase essential supplies online, and are regularly inadequate to meet a person and their family’s basic needs.

Therefore we are working with others across the sector to ensure:

  • That asylum support rates are increased, in line with the increases to Universal Credit, by £20 per week.
  • We are calling for changes to Asylum Support to make it fit for the current situation, including an end to room sharing, and welfare support that can be utilised online and away from NASS accommodation.
  • Our clients are struggling to get information or access services due to a lack of internet and phone access.  We are therefore urging that all accommodation includes Wi-Fi access.
  • Attending the National Asylum Stakeholder Form support subgroup and the London Asylum Group to provide vital voluntary sector input into issues affecting asylum seekers.

Inquiries we have submitted to:

  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee’s inquiry into food supply amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Work and Pensions Select Committee into the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. 
  • Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into Home Office preparedness for Covid-19, our submission focuses on institutional asylum accommodation. 

We are also supporting the sector’s call for protection and adequate support of vulnerable individuals and have signed up to the following calls for action: