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Asylum dispersal, improving support for children and their families and unaccompanied asylum seekers

Asylum dispersal and the London response +

In March, the government announced their decision to move to a full asylum dispersal model supported by grant funding.[i] The aim of this new asylum dispersal model is to have a fairer distribution of asylum seekers across the UK and move people out of hotels. A more equitable asylum system will help to prevent disproportionate pressures falling upon certain local authorities and enable better support for asylum seekers.

Each region in the UK has been given an allocation of asylum seekers proportionate to their population size and has been asked to develop a regional asylum dispersal plan[ii].

London Leaders have agreed to use a multi-factor model to fairly distribute London’s asylum allocation using data factors. The more pressures a borough faces, the less their asylum allocation.[iii]  All Leaders support applying a threshold of 1 in 200 (0.5%) that prevents any borough with an asylum population of over 0.5% of their general population from receiving further allocations (currently London boroughs Hillingdon and Hounslow are over the threshold).  Alongside the multi-factor model, London Leaders have agreed upon a set of key principles to ensure there is a place-based approach to asylum dispersal in London. [iv]

In November 2022, and the Home Office  Clearsprings[v] agreed to the London Asylum Dispersal Plan.  The government have not yet gone live with the regional dispersal plans but the expectation that this will happen soon.

Improved partnership working between London local government, the Home Office and Clearsprings  aims to  improve forward planning from the government, more effective data sharing, greater accountability for Clearsprings procurement practice, and improved quality of accommodation and support for people seeking asylum.

An oversight group has been established between London local government, the Home Office, Clearsprings and other partners to ensure that the London Asylum Plan is delivered in line with the place-based principles agreed upon by Leaders. The oversight group will feed into the London Strategic Migration Partnership Meeting, London’s most senior immigration meeting.

A  local government working group has been established to assess how Clearsprings procurement is progressing against the target asylum allocation in each borough, and to identify key challenges regarding safeguarding, public health, housing and asylum support in line with procurement practice. This group will data and ensure the data factors still reflect pressures and report to the oversight group and London Councils’ Leaders’ Committee. There will also be a team to up-date the multi-factor model.  Glen Peache (Director of Family Services, Kensington & Chelsea) is the representative on the local government working group.

Current position +

There are long standing arrangements through the London Rota for dispersing children assessed as unaccompanied asylum seekers across London boroughs. This was developed  at a time when most children were screened and assessed by the Home Office in Croydon. More recently children have been arriving in Kent.  There is a London Asylum Seekers Consortium (LASC) hosted by Westminster Council.[vi]

In June 2021 Kent informed the Home Office that it would be stopping taking unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, stating that it had reached full capacity and was facing “extreme pressure” on children's services. This saw UASC arriving in the county pass from the responsibility of the council to the Home Office.

Children and young people subsequently deemed to be under 18 years of age stayed in the Home Office asylum processing centre. There was and continues to be significant delay in processing people. There were concerns that a significant number of children were processed as adults but subsequently assessed to be under 18 years of age.

As people were moved from the Home Office asylum processing centre in Manston in Kent, they were placed by the Home Office in “contingency hotels” many of which were in London.  This was pending assessment of their asylum claim. The practice leaders group has had discussions about children being placed in contingency hotels in London with little or no notice to the local authority.

There are currently 23,000 asylum seekers in London -  21% of UK total population of whom 17,000 are in hotels.  This is over the 12.8% maximum threshold for the proportion of dispersed asylum seekers to be assigned to London.  77% of people are in hotels, other people are in shared or self-contained accommodation.  There have been significant concerns about the quality of accommodation and support both to children and their parents / carers. This includes widely reported public health and child safeguarding concerns[vii]. There are also concerns about children being moved between local authorities with little or no notice to local authorities, schools, health, or voluntary sector staff.

There is an unequal distribution of hotels and other asylum accommodation across London.  Some local authorities have had to commit significant leadership and resources to working with local services to meet the needs of children and their families.

Children’s social workers have carried out age assessments to determining the age of young people who challenged the screening decision that they were over 18, clarifying the relationship between children and adults they were with and, to identify unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Once identified, unaccompanied children become looked after children under the Children Act 1989.  The Home Office have used “contingency hotels” for unaccompanied asylum seeking children who have in effect fallen outside the Children Act 1989 legal framework.

Next steps +

The implementation of the national asylum dispersal scheme will lead to more London authorities having to address the issues that have to date been handled by a minority of London authorities.  They will also impact on the current arrangements for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. There is a significant backlog of asylum processing that is a affecting children and adults seeking asylum.  There are long standing concerns about the Home Office and Clearsprings not communicating with local authorities about their plans to develop and commission accommodation in London authorities.

The immediate priorities for the local authority working group are to:

  • Improve the quality of data about accommodation places and the people in them
  • Have better information from the Home Office and Clearsprings around their development and commissioning of new accommodation and support.
  • Share best practice on how local authorities are engaging with the Home Office and Clearsprings, mobilising local authority departments and partnerships to address the needs of children and their parents / carers.
  • Developing a process for escalating concerns across different authorities to regional interface meetings between London authorities and the Home Office.
  • Having a better understanding of the needs of asylum seekers including the need for housing, education and skills, health and specialist services.

There is an opportunity to learn from best practice where the whole Council with partners has coordinated its response in a way that  quality assures accommodation and support, is responsive to individual and public health needs, gets children into school or other educational settings, identifies and addresses any SEND and child mental health needs.

As well as practice leader representation on the local authority working group, a children’s social care reference group has been identified at Head of Service level.  The terms of reference for the working group and this reference group are being finalised.

[i] £3,500 is given to a local authority for each new dispersal accommodation bed space occupied and the government conducted a burdens assessment to understand the wider funding pressures for local authorities supporting asylum seekers.

[i] The indicative regional allocation from the Home Office for London is an increase of 6,344 bedspaces of dispersed accommodation (DA) or permanent initial accommodation (IA) by the end of 2023. This represents 11.1% of the UK asylum cohort.

[iii] The data factors are: Asylum pressures data (number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), UASC care leavers and asylum seekers in DA, IA and hotels) ,Housing data (number of households in temporary accommodation, number of properties available at LHA, number of homelessness presentations, those prevented from homelessness by the LA) and Refugee/Evacuee pressures data (Homes for Ukraine data, numbers of Afghan evacuees in hotels and resettled by LAs, and number of refugees resettled on specified schemes between 2016-2021).

[iv] London Leaders have agreed upon a set of key principles to ensure there is a place-based approach to asylum dispersal in London. This includes ensuring a long-term view of resourcing statutory/voluntary sectors, giving attention to the holistic experiences and needs of refugee and asylum populations, encouraging the government to stop creating siloed solutions for different refugee and asylum populations, and working in partnership with government and other groups, including to address housing supply issues.

[v]  See Clearsprings website https://www.ready-homes.co.uk and the Home Office guide for asylum seekers living in temporary accommodation whilst their claim for asylum is assessed: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/821324/Pack_A_-_English_-_Web.pdf

[vi] See London Councils briefing on UASC arrangements: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/asylum-migration-and-refugees/unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-children-uasc

LASC is a central resource to London local authorities in the delivery of services to unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people in the sphere of asylum and immigration legislation and policy and the Children’s Act. LASC core services includes children and young peoples, provision of emergency accommodation and support services, monitoring and commissioning of accommodation, information, training and partnership working with central, local, government agencies and stakeholders.

[vii] See ECPAT website: https://www.ecpat.org.uk/News/charities-call-for-action-on-children-missing-in-hotels

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