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Perfect storm could see many refugees sleeping rough this Christmas, says LGA

Tens of thousands of refugees could be on the streets this Christmas, councils have warned (Yui Mok/PA)
Tens of thousands of refugees could be on the streets this Christmas, councils have warned (Yui Mok/PA)

Tens of thousands of refugees could end up having to sleep rough this Christmas, an organisation representing councils has warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils across England and Wales are facing a “perfect storm” this festive season amid high demand for temporary accommodation and as the Government works to clear the backlog of older cases in the asylum system.

The warning comes after charities expressed concern in recent months that people who have been granted refugee status are not being given enough notice to find other places to stay when they are asked to move on from asylum accommodation.

Last month, the British Red Cross reported its services have seen the number of people they support who have been granted refugee status but who have become destitute more than double since early summer.

The LGA has listed a number of asks of Government, including making sure people have the full 28 days’ notice they have been promised before they have to leave Home Office accommodation.

There have been reports some have been given as little as a week’s notice, although immigration minister Robert Jenrick rejected this when it was put to him in Parliament last month, saying the Home Office’s policy remains 28 days.

The LGA said no-one should be asked to leave their asylum accommodation in Christmas week and this period should not be counted towards the overall numbers of days’ notice given.

This pause – which the LGA said should also happen during extreme weather – could reduce the risk of street homelessness, the organisation said.

The Government has pledged to clear the legacy backlog – asylum applications made before June 28 2022 – by the end of this year.

Figures published earlier this month by the Home Office showed the legacy backlog of asylum applications stood at 33,253 as of October 29.

To meet the Government target, around 16,630 applications would need to be cleared per month before December 31.

LGA chairman Shaun Davies said councils are “facing a perfect storm in the run up to Christmas which could see tens of thousands of refugees having to sleep rough”.

He said: “Demand for temporary accommodation is already at an all-time high with councils struggling to source suitable accommodation and cater for current needs.

“Pushing tens of thousands of refugees out of Home Office accommodation on to councils will overload the system and mean they simply cannot provide for these vulnerable people’s needs.”

He said asylum seekers “need as much notice as possible before they have to leave their accommodation so they have time to find work and a new place to live”.

Urgent funding is needed, he added, to help councils put in place local support to minimise risks of destitution, overcrowding and street homelessness.

The LGA has also asked for better data to help councils with local planning in order to “protect and provide for refugees”, and demanded a commitment to future resources for councils’ support for those waiting for decisions on claims.

The organisation said local housing allowance rates which determine the subsidy available for temporary accommodation must be raised from their current 2011 levels to cover the cheapest 30% of properties in a council area.

This is separate to the autumn statement announcement around local housing allowance rates being unfrozen from April next year.

A Government spokesperson said: “Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days’ notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.

“Support is offered to newly recognised refugees by Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access Universal Credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing.

“We are working with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions as the legacy backlog reduces.”

Meanwhile, the Government has announced its allocation of funding – first promised in September 2022 – to help people with a history of rough sleeping and those at risk of homelessness.

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said 46 local authorities, housing providers, and charities across England will build or buy 1,230 homes for the most vulnerable, all funded by £148.4 million of the Government’s single homelessness accommodation programme.

Allocations for the remaining part of the overall £200 million fund as part of the programme will be announced early next year, the department said.