Together at last:

Supporting refugee families who reunite in the UK

Highlighting how simple changes would ensure refugee families reuniting in the UK have the support they need to build a life here.

Our new report, Together at last: supporting refugee families who reunite in the UK, is based on learning from the British Red Cross Family Reunion Integration Service (FRIS). The service has supported 3,994 family members arriving in the UK to reunite with their family.

 

The moment that a family torn apart by war, violence or persecution, reunites is full of joy and relief. But for some refugee families, it signals the start of a new struggle. Many face a multitude of barriers just to access the very basics, from suitable accommodation and an income, to fast access to schooling.

 

Families have to do this without any formal support, while navigating complex systems that don’t reflect the reality of life for a reunited refugee family. Despite being a key safe route for people to reach the UK there has been very little, if any, government focus on the outcomes for reunited refugee families.

 

Reunited families, like mine, need support to settle and start to build a life in the UK. This report shows the struggles families are facing right now, but also the changes that would ease those first weeks and months and help reunited families to start to make the UK their home.
Ngozi, Ambassador for the VOICES Network

 

Key findings

Data and insights collected through FRIS’s support for reunited families reveals several factors that delay family integration and puts them at risk of destitution.

These delays were mainly because statutory processes had not started until the family arrived in the UK. They were also down to a lack of accessible information, and statutory systems not flexing to respond to the particular circumstances faced by reunited families.

  • On arrival, the majority of reunited families struggle to access suitable accommodation. Only 23 per cent of the families supported were able to move into their sponsor’s pre-existing accommodation on arrival.
  • Families face destitution on arrival. After the family arrived, universal Credit claims belonging to the sponsor (the refugee in the UK) were cancelled and any payments stopped. This was so the  joint claim made with their partner could be processed. It took an average of 61 days for families to receive their first Universal Credit payment. 
  • On average it took 31 days after families arrived in the UK to register with a GP. Surgeries often requested identity documents unnecessarily.
  • Children generally started school between two weeks and four and a half months after arriving in the UK. Families often needed support to navigate the schools’ admissions process.

Refugee resettlement

The report also finds that the other key safe route for refugees to come to the UK - refugee resettlement - provides examples of how reunited families can be supported both before and on arrival. This includes:

  • Providing refugees with basic information about health, housing, education, benefits and their rights and entitlements before they arrive in the UK.
  • Local authorities sourcing accommodation up to eight weeks before refugees are resettled to the UK.
  • Support workers, commissioned by local authorities and funded by the UK government, providing support to help families register with GPs and schools, refer people to specialist services, and attend Jobcentre Plus appointments. 

Our recommendations

Our report sets out practical changes that the UK government, devolved governments and local authorities can introduce to make sure families have the support they need to start their life in the UK. 


  1. Reuniting refugee families should be supported to integrate as soon as possible when they arrive, with processes starting prior to their journey to the UK.
  2. Reunited refugee families should be able to access suitable accommodation as quickly as possible and should not have to present as homeless to a local authority on the day of arrival in the UK.
  3. Reunited refugee families should be able to secure an income as quickly as possible, and welfare system processes should ensure that families do not face a destitution gap.
  4. Reunited refugee families should be able to navigate the health system to access any support they require.
  5. Children reunited with their family members in the UK should start school as quickly as possible to minimise gaps in their education and to form new friendships.

Partnership provides integrated support

Barnardo's logo with text saying 'Believe in children'.

Queen Margaret University Edingburgh logo


FRIS has been running for three years in partnership with Barnardo’s and Queen Margaret University and part-funded by the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.