Change in refugee housing policy could spark homelessness ‘crisis’ in South London

A homeless charity worker has spoken out about the Government’s recent refugee policy changes, which he says are about to cause a “crisis” in homelessness for hundreds of asylum seekers.

After being granted the right to live in the UK, refugees now face homelessness as they are told to move from asylum support housing at seven days’ notice without the money or documentation they need to access mainstream housing and benefits.  

Ross Watkins, 46, from Hertfordshire, works at the homeless charity Emmaus SLC in Knights Hill, West Norwood.

He said: “What’s very likely to happen is just starting. There are currently around 400 asylum seekers in hotels from the asylum system in Croydon.

“They are all vulnerable to becoming homeless and destitute. I have already been working with families who need to find new accommodation but can’t. 

“They are now destitute, with no means of self funding and are relying on homeless services for food and accommodation.”

The Government announced the streamlined asylum processing system in February to help move people through the asylum system. The system applied to adults and families from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

This meant people seeking asylum from those countries only needed to complete a questionnaire instead of an interview – receiving refugee status much more quickly.

Then, in September, the Government made changes to the process for newly-recognised refugees, meaning that people granted refugee status would have just seven days’ notice to leave their accommodation that had been provided by the asylum service.

Asylum seekers do not have the right to work in the UK, making it virtually impossible to secure housing and financial support, and placing pressures on local authority homelessness services.  

Mr Watkins said: “When they have refugee status they are the same as any other UK national.

“A lot of people won’t meet the priority needs for council housing so they need to find independent, private accommodation. And they don’t know how and can’t afford it.

“These people will be pushed into illegal situations with rogue landlords that are abusive, or people they don’t know, which is also very dangerous, especially for single women and children.

It comes as a housing crisis unfolds across the capital, hitting some South London boroughs the hardest. 

A new report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) shows 4,086 people were seen sleeping rough in London between July and September this year.

The data, which only had figures for 14 individual boroughs with the rest grouped into one category, shows Lambeth has the third highest rate of rough sleepers in London – after Westminster and Camden – with 254 people seen sleeping on the streets in the latest period.

Mr Watkins said: “Local authorities don’t know what to do. Seven days is not nearly enough time.

“Previously refugees were given 28 days to leave. We desperately need to be giving refugees a longer notice period that would help many avoid rough sleeping.”

Croydon council and the Home Office have been approached for comment.

A spokeswoman from the Home Office said: “To minimise the risk of homelessness, 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 offer ample support once claims have been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for Universal Credit.”

Pictured top: Ross Watkins at the Emmaus SLC office in West Norwood (Picture: Ross Watkins)

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