New Clause 24 - Prescribed period under section 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 4th November 2021.

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‘(1) The Asylum Support Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/704) are amended as follows.

(2) In regulation 2(2) (interpretation) for “28” substitute “56”.

(3) Subject to subsection (4), this section does not prevent the Secretary of State from exercising the powers conferred by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to prescribe by regulations a different period for the purposes of section 94(3) (day on which a claim for asylum is determined) of that Act.

(4) The Secretary of State may not prescribe a period less than 56 days where regulation 2(2A) of the Asylum Support Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/704) applies.’—

When an individual is granted refugee status, their eligibility to Home Office financial support and accommodation currently ends after a further 28 days. This new clause would extend that period to 56 days or allow the Secretary of State to set a longer period.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would extend the current 28-day “move on” period for newly recognised refugees to 56 days. According to the British Red Cross, the London School of Economics and others, that could benefit the public purse by more than £7 million annually and address the profound human costs of poverty and homelessness. I thank the British Red Cross for its help with the new clause and its broader research and work in the area. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I receive support from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project in this policy area.

Currently, someone who has claimed asylum and been given refugee status will see their asylum support and section 4 support stop 28 days after that decision, which is out of sync with Government welfare and housing policy and insufficient time to move on with affairs. At that point, refugees stop getting their cash allowance and have to move house. While they get permission to work, they need both a bank account and a national insurance number for that. There are potential pitfalls to opening a bank account. Zikee, an ambassador for the Voices Network said:

“The biggest problem I faced when I received my refugee status was that I was asked to move out of my Home Office accommodation within 28 days…this affected me so much as I did not have my…biometric resident card due to a Home Office error. I had to wait weeks for this…and this meant I couldn’t open a bank account.”

It can be problematic to open a bank account within 28 days and, as the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Guy Opperman, confirmed in June, it can take weeks to access a national insurance number. The average wait for a new national insurance number is 10 to 12 weeks, not the 28 days found in measures for refugees. The current 28-day “move on” period is incompatible with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which gives local authorities a 56-day period to work with households at risk of homelessness and to provide alternative accommodation.

For example, Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers has been supporting a young Afghan with post-traumatic stress disorder who, sadly, has attempted suicide on two occasions. Despite notifying the council within the 28 days, he was left homeless because Newham refused to accept he had a local connection. There are massive problems accessing housing. The current 28-day limit is incompatible with social security legislation and policy. Universal credit has an automatic 35-day wait for support—that is if applicants are lucky enough to get processed in that time. There are still thousands who do not get seen within that time. It is welcome that the delay has come down, but it is still severe.

The current system is out of sync with Government policy in different areas, but there are also cost benefits, for those who care about value for money. The British Red Cross report “The costs of destitution” cites figures that suggest that extending the “move on” period to 56 days would better reflect housing and social security policy and have an overall financial benefit of between £4 million and £7 million, including £2 million to local authorities for decreased use of temporary accommodation and £3 million for reducing rough sleeping. It would save the taxpayer money to adopt this new clause, as outlined by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics.

If the Minister wants to help the public purse, reducing homelessness as a result of extending the limit to 56 days would potentially save between £2 million and £3 million. That figure is based on the Government’s figures on rough sleeping—in January last year, they told us there were only 5,000 rough sleepers in the country, but the Government is rightly proud of their Everyone In initiative, which provided accommodation to 38,000 people. The actual figure for rough sleeping seems to be a bit of an anomaly, and I hope the Government will provide a more robust one. But the potential is there for much greater public saving given the higher numbers involved. If councils are better able to provide permanent housing longer term, they are less reliant on temporary accommodation, which has higher costs attached.

The LSE analysis shows there is an estimated saving to local authorities of more than £2 million a year, through the reduction in use of temporary accommodation. This should be an area of concern for the Government. In February 2020, Inside Housing found that English councils had doubled the amount they were spending.

The 2013-14 expenditure on temporary accommodation was £490 million; by 2019-20, that figure had jumped to £1.19 billion. That is an extortionate figure. The Government should commit to reduce it. This new clause would help in that regard. Allowing those households to continue living in asylum support accommodation while the local authority completes its duties, in line with the 56 days prescribed by the Homelessness Reduction Act, could result in less use of temporary accommodation by councils.

There is also evidence, although I will not go through all the figures, that if the extension to 56 days was passed, it would support people into work. That would mean national insurance and tax contributions to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and less benefit expenditure over time. The estimated reduction in benefit expenditure is up to £2.5 million. There are other savings from cutting the destitution that people face and the knock-on cost for the mental health services and local authority services.

I have been as quick as I can. This is a common-sense new clause that would save the Government money and take the pressure off individuals, housing associations, councils and charities. It would combat destitution by giving refugees more time to find a home and collect the documents they need, while being in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act, social security legislation, and offering considerable savings for those who care about value for money.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 2:45 pm, 4th November 2021

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark for tabling his new clause. In simple terms, the longer successful asylum-seekers remain in asylum accommodation, the fewer the beds available for those newly entering the asylum support system, including those temporarily accommodated in hotels at great expense to the taxpayer. We are aware of reports that some refugees do not access universal credit or other benefits, or adequate housing, within 28 days. The reasons for that are complex, but the available evidence to date does not show that the problem can be solved by increasing the 28-day “move on” period.

I also reassure the hon. Member that we have implemented several initiatives with the aim of securing better outcomes for refugees in the 28 day “move on” period. These include ensuring that the 28-day period does not start until refugees have been issued with a biometric residence permit—the document that they need to prove that they can take employment and apply for universal credit—and that the national insurance number is printed on the permit, which speeds up the process of deciding a universal credit application.

We also fund Migrant Help, a voluntary sector organisation, to contact the refugees at the start of the 28-day period and offer practical “move on” assistance, including advice on how to claim universal credit; advice on the importance of an early asylum claim and the other types of support that might be available; booking an early appointment at their nearest Department for Work and Pensions jobcentre, if needed; and advice on how to contact their local authority for assistance in finding alternative housing.

We evaluated the success of the scheme that books an early appointment with the local jobcentre for those who want one. That showed that all applicants for universal credit in the survey received their first payment on time—that is, 35 days from the date of their application—and that those who asked for an earlier advance payment received one.

Asylum accommodation providers are also under a contractual duty to notify the local authority of the potential need to provide housing where a person in their accommodation is granted refugee status. Refugees can also apply for integration loans, which can be used, for example, to pay a rent deposit or for essential domestic items, work equipment or training.

The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, and I reassure the hon. Member that the Government are committed to ensuring that all refugees can take positive steps towards integration and realising their potential. Although we keep the “move on” period under review, we must also consider the strong countervailing factors that make increasing that period difficult. I therefore invite him not to press his new clause.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

I am almost sorry, but the Minister’s answer ignores the reality and the situation in which people find themselves. He does not have an answer about the anomaly in housing or social security policy, and he has not even tried to explain why the Government are ignoring the potential savings to the public purse. I will press the new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 70 Nationality and Borders Bill — New Clause 24 - Prescribed period under section 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.