05 October 2023

More than 50,000 refugees could become homeless by the end of the year, British Red Cross warns

More than 50,000 refugees could be made homeless by the end of the year if the Government doesn’t take urgent steps to support them as it clears the asylum backlog, the British Red Cross warns. 

The government has pledged to process all ‘legacy’ asylum applications made before 28 June 2022, by the end of the year. 

Based on the number of people living in asylum accommodation, and their dependents, the British Red Cross is publishing new projections on the number of people at risk of homelessness. 

It estimates that more than 50,000 refugees will be at risk of homelessness if the Government clears the backlog – and even if decision-making on asylum claims isn’t sped up and the target not met, 26,000 people could still be at risk of destitution and homelessness, its analysis shows. 

Recently the 28 day ‘move-on’ process – the time given to refugees to move from asylum support to mainstream benefits or employment – changed, leaving some people with as little as seven days to move out of their asylum accommodation. The charity warns this could lead to devastating levels of destitution. 

The charity is calling on the government to: 

  • Immediately, reverse changes to the move-on process to prevent thousands of people from spiralling into destitution 
  • Extend the move-on period to 56 days to allow more time for newly-recognised refugees to find housing, employment or benefits 
  • Take a joined-up approach with local authorities to ensure refugees are not left on the streets 

Alex Fraser, British Red Cross Director for Refugee Support, said:   

“People who have been forced to flee their homes have already experienced unimaginable trauma. They need stability, support and to feel safe – making people destitute only causes more distress and hardship. 

“Once they get refugee status, they need more time, not less, to find housing, work or benefits. It takes at least 35 days to start getting Universal Credit and local authorities need at least 56 days to help them find accommodation.  

“Extending the move-on period would give refugees the support they need as they start to rebuild their lives.” 

Bethan, a British Red Cross refugee service manager added:  

“In parts of Greater Manchester, homelessness for single men has almost become a guaranteed part of getting refugee status. The mental health impact of this is shocking. For people going through the asylum system, waiting for months and sometimes years for good news, it's deeply demoralising for this to be the next step.” 

The new analysis comes as the charity faces rising demand for support from people who have been recently granted refugee status.  

Since the changes to the ‘move-on’ period at the beginning of August, British Red Cross Refugee Services have seen a 140% increase in destitution for people they support with refugee status, from 132 people in June and July, to 317 people in August and September. 

They are having to hand out sleeping bags and tents to people who are facing life on the streets and support people who are feeling suicidal. At least one man has had all of his possession stolen while sleeping rough.  

London, North West England and Glasgow have particularly high numbers of people in asylum accommodation at risk of destitution, as well as high housing pressures. The British Red Cross has put together an interactive map to highlight how the issue is playing out. 

Alex Fraser, British Red Cross Director for Refugee Support, continues:  

"We have been calling for a more joined-up approach to support people since before the changes to the move-on period on 1st August. We're aware the Home Office is taking some action to address the issues. However thousands of people are already facing hardship, and the charities and local authorities supporting them are under pressure. These projected statistics show how urgent the situation is." 

The ‘move-on’ period explained 

When people seeking asylum receive their refugee status, the Home Office has allowed them just 28 days to move-on from asylum support to mainstream benefits or employment. This is simply not enough time for most people. 

For years, the British Red Cross has been calling on the government to extend the move-on period to 56 days - this would match the time period local authorities are given to work with households at risk of homelessness. 

Recently, the charity has seen some people receive only seven days’ notice to move on. This is because of a change in the way the Home Office is implementing the move-on period. It is now counting the 28 days from the time when people receive their asylum decision letter, rather than when they receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). People need their BRP to be able to apply for Universal Credit.  

At the same time, more decisions are being made on asylum claims due to the streamlined asylum process. While reducing the backlog and speeding up claims is welcome, this is putting an increasing amount of pressure on local authorities to support people to find housing quickly. 

The British Red Cross is warning an increasing number of refugees are being pushed into destitution. 


Notes to editors

  • 53,100 refugees could be made homeless by the end of 2023 if the government meets its commitment to clear the asylum backlog. If the Home Office does not meet its target of clearing the legacy backlog and it continues to process claims at the current rate, that could result in around 26,000 people facing homelessness.
  • This initial projection was calculated based on 62,157 claims (main applicants only) on the legacy backlog as of 30 July 2023; average family size (main applicants and dependants) was 1.3 as of 30 June 2023; and 65% of people (including dependants) in the backlog were in asylum accommodation as of 30 June 2022. The ‘legacy backlog’ refers to asylum applications made before 28 June 2022.
  • London, the north-west and Glasgow have particularly high numbers of people in asylum accommodation at risk of destitution as well as high housing pressures. This is laid out in an interactive map: public.flourish.studio/visualisation/14939715  
  • Housing pressures are based on a local authority’s statutory homelessness applications, households in temporary accommodation, waiting lists, social housing stock, and vacancy rates.
  • The colour coding of the map highlights places with high housing pressures and high numbers of people in asylum accommodation. The places coloured white do not have high levels of housing pressure, despite in some cases having people in asylum accommodation.
  • As Northern Ireland only has 11 local government districts, housing pressure for local authorities is ranked from 1 to 11.
  • Around the time the government changed the way it implements the move-on, British Red Cross services have seen a 140% increase in destitution for people with refugee status. This was an increase from 132 people between 15 June – 31 July, to 317 people between 1 August – 15 September.
  • These figures do not include dependents.

About the British Red Cross 

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. With millions of volunteers across 192 countries, the British Red Cross is part of an international humanitarian Movement that’s there for people before, during and after a crisis. Together, we are the world’s emergency responders.