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Passport and cash ©King Chung Huang

Rebecca Dillon

Left penniless in the asylum loophole

Passport and cash ©King Chung HuangA State system that enforces destitution; sets out to deny people the opportunity to support themselves and removes housing options; whilst at the same time preventing them from accessing even rudimentary benefits or assistance is, in our opinion, a social injustice.
A major social injustice. But the asylum system does just that. That is why Commonweal Housing is determined to help address this.

For the majority who are refused asylum, they are not immediately removed from the country – a policy which although favoured by some, is likely to cause even more injustice in many cases. This frequently leaves people in limbo with their status uncertain.  Many are allowed to stay in the community for the time being and may have the option of an appeal or submitting a fresh application if new evidence is available.  However, and this is the problem in Commonweal’s eyes, although you are allowed to stay here, the State says you cannot work to support yourself or your family, you cannot access housing and will receive no benefits or state support. Such individuals have what is called ’no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF).
They are left, deliberately, destitute.

This is the issue that came to our attention back in 2013 – a classic ‘systemic nonsense’, of the system failing those it should be helping. In searching for an expert partner to help address this, one who buys in to Commonweal’s action learning principles, we found Praxis – a leading migrant support agency.

Over the last year Commonweal has been working with Praxis to develop a model that helps provide free accommodation for this wronged group. This housing can in turn provide the opportunity for expert support agencies to work with individuals to explore options for appeals or fresh applications or ultimately to plan a move back to country of origin or elsewhere.  Crucially our support means that this help can be provided from a position of safety and dignity and one where people will not be ‘lost’ in the never-world of illegal immigration.

Currently charities and voluntary sector groups are housing those caught in this NRPF limbo but are doing so in free donated houses. Properties are temporarily donated by goodly individuals or community minded property owners such as housing associations, churches and the like. Such individual and corporate benevolence is fantastic but the availability of such accommodation is subject to change – with up turns in the property market, death of individuals or changes in senior management likely to mean the loss of the housing for this group.

Together with Praxis, Commonweal are seeking to develop and test a more sustainable cross subsidy model. It works by taking an income stream from renting other properties to local authorities who have a duty to provide accommodation to some asylum seeker families under the requirements of the Children’s Act 1989. This means that Councils will be able to access good quality accommodation as well as a specialist wrap around expert support package for the families, something that is simply not provided by most of the B&B hotels and private landlords currently used.

Commonweal has secured new social investment funding of over £2 million to provide the capital funding for the property purchases for this pilot project, which aims to get off the ground this autumn. We are pleased that the investment was finalised in October 2014, when we received a £2.5 million investment from Big Society Capital, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Trust for London and City Bridge Trust to finance this housing project for destitute families and children in South London. Praxis aims to accommodate approximately 210 families and 126 individuals over the course of the investment.

In developing the project, a ’10 point criteria’ was used as an initial guide to assess whether potential projects may be suitable for development and support from Commonweal. Click here for the full list of criteria.

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