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New refugees left destitute by red tape and paperwork delays

15 March 2016

Red tape and administrative delays are leaving hundreds of refugees destitute each year, in some cases homeless, even after being granted asylum in the UK.

Of the 9,000 destitute refugees and asylum seekers who were supported by the British Red Cross in 2015, 13 per cent (1,155) had been granted refugee status by the Home Office. Of these, over half were from Sudan, Eritrea or Syria.

The House of Lords will vote on Tuesday on an amendment to the Immigration Bill which would extend the “move-on” period refugees have to make the transition from asylum support to mainstream benefits from 28 to 40 days.

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross said: “By definition, refugees have every right to be here and have undisputedly had to leave their home country because their lives are in danger.

“Imagine being in that position and having the horror of your experience accepted by the Home Office, but instead of being able to embark on a new life, being left destitute due to paperwork and errors in administration.

Our research shows that 28 days simply isn’t enough time to apply for work, claim new benefits and find somewhere to live. Extending the move-on period is a small and simple step the UK government could take that would significantly reduce the likelihood of destitution being a side effect of being given permission to live in this country.”

Under current rules, following a grant of refugee status, asylum seekers in the UK have 28 days before all asylum support is terminated, including housing and basic living expenses.

Yet research by the British Red Cross has found that the process of transition to work or mainstream benefits, which involves applying for documents such as national insurance numbers and biometric residence permits, often takes much longer – in some cases up to three months.

The process is often fraught with delays and complications, ranging from benefit application forms arriving late to inappropriate or incorrect advice being given by Jobcentre staff, leaving new refugees with no financial support or accommodation.

The amendment would not only extend the window before asylum support is terminated, but also start the clock ticking only when a refugee receives their biometric resident permit.

Adamson continued: “The UK government rightly talks about ensuring protection for people who have fled war and persecution, but we should also protect them from having to live in destitution when they finally reach a place of safety.

“As evidence that we have shared with the Home Office shows, this is a problem which can be fixed and we hope they will accept this change. If not, we call on Members of the House of Lords to support refugees and vote for this change in the Immigration Bill.”

Notes to editors

Whereas refugees have permission to work in the UK and are entitled to claim mainstream benefits, asylum seekers do not and rely on statutory asylum support, which includes housing and basic living expenses, while their claim is being assessed.

The British Red Cross supported over 9,000 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in 2015, of which 1,155 had refugee status. The youngest was less than a year old and the oldest was 81. The equivalent figures for 2014 were 7,700 and 700 respectively.

The Red Cross supports destitute refugees and asylum seekers across the UK by providing clothing, meals, food, signposting to shelters and emergency cash support.

The charity’s report “The move-on period: an ordeal for new refugees” examines the experience of new refugees experiencing destitution during the move-on period in Birmingham and Plymouth and is available at redcross.org.uk/moveonreport

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