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Changes to home office refugee rules spark housing crisis concerns for NHS and public services in London

A recent change to Home Office rules on refugees threatens to create a “crisis” for London’s councils, NHS and public services, an expert has warned.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said that new arrangements on the granting of refugee status could cause a “significant number” of successful asylum applicants to become homeless.

The charity’s concern is about a reduction in time given for the so-called move-on process, so that people granted refugee status can now be given just seven days’ notice that they need to leave their Home Office accommodation.

The Refugee Council say the change will make it “virtually impossible” for successful applicants to find housing and financial support.

Previously, the Home Office gave new refugees 28 days’ notice to find their own accommodation, starting from when they receive their biometric residency permit, confirming their status as a refugee.

But now the 28 days starts from the day refugee status is granted, not the date that a person receives the news, which can often be delayed when documentation is given to a housing manager or lawyer. This means that the actual notice period for the refugee can now be as short as seven days.

Speaking at Thursday meeting of the London Assembly, Mr Solomon said: “The situation that we’re currently facing with [the] seven days [notice period] is just going to cause a crisis for people, but not just for those individuals – very vulnerable individuals – from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and we know the situation in those countries.

“But a crisis for your councils here in London, and for all services, including health services as well. I can’t stress that enough.”

While councils have an obligation to provide emergency accommodation to families with children, adults who do not have children may not be eligible for that support and are at risk of finding themselves homeless.

Approached for a response to Mr Solomon’s comments, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing an unacceptable £6m a day.

“We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.

“We are also modernising the asylum system, increasing productivity by simplifying and digitising processes, and recruiting record numbers of asylum decision-makers, with 40 per cent more in post compared to the start of December 2022.”

Later during Thursday’s meeting, former Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey – now Lord Bailey of Paddington – asked about progress made by mayor Sadiq Khan on his Refugee Housing Programme.

Mr Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, said City Hall had received £126m out of a national fund of £500m, which by March 31 next year is expected to deliver up to 630 homes in the capital.

So far under the programme, funding has been allocated for 305 homes, representing about £63.5m of expenditure, said Mr Copley.

He added: “These homes are going to be available for Afghan refugees who are currently in bridging hotels, as well as Ukrainian refugees.”

The funding will enable borough councils and housing associations to acquire and refurbish existing properties, as well as acquiring new build properties “off the shelf” and building new homes themselves.