To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the role of voluntary organisations in meeting the needs of asylum seekers in terms of the supply of (1) accommodation, (2) food, and (3) other essential items, where there is no eligibility or access on the part of individual asylum seekers to public funds; and how they consult such organisations to inform their understanding of (1) the nature of unmet needs, and (2) the impact on affected individuals and local services, of asylum seekers.
To ask Her Majesty's Government when Ministers last met representatives of voluntary organisations working to meet the needs of asylum seekers to discuss the concerns such organisations have about the impact of the Government's policies on asylum seekers and the communities in which they are based; and which (1) Ministers, and (2) Departments, were involved in any such meetings.
In March the Home Office set up a dedicated engagement channel with the Voluntary and Community sector on asylum and resettlement matters related to Covid-19. The British Red Cross were nominated by the sector as the single point of contact, and they were provided with a dedicated single point of contact within the Home Office. This allowed the Home Office to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on affected individuals and local services, and to work collaboratively with the sector to keep people safe. At the request of the sector, we have returned to a business as usual approach, but are continuing to speak regularly with relevant organisations.
Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free accommodation and other assistance to cover their essential living needs.
The accommodation is arranged by private sector providers through contractual arrangements with the Home Office. There was extensive consultation with the voluntary sector about these arrangements before the contracts were let. Support to cover essential living needs is generally proved through a weekly cash allowance, currently set as £39.60 for each person in the household. The level of the allowance is reviewed annually, and voluntary groups are invited to submit their views.
Discussion about on-going matters generally takes place through the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, which includes key voluntary groups such as the Refugee Council, Refugee Action and the British Red Cross.
The Home Office engages with non-government organisations (NGOs) on the needs of asylum seekers primarily through the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum (NASF). This consists of two Strategic Engagement Groups (SEG), one for asylum and one for resettlement. Underpinned by NASF Sub-Groups; including groups focused on asylum decision making, asylum support, integration and mental health. These forums provide a strategic and constructive space for discussion and consultation on asylum and resettlement matters, identifying areas where the Home Office and stakeholders can work jointly to make improvements to the asylum and resettlement systems and their underpinning policies and processes. SEG and NASF meetings are held quarterly and are jointly chaired by senior Home Office officials and their NGO counterparts.
The last Asylum SEG was held on 11 June 2020, the next being 17 September 2020. Immigration ministers have met with NGOs previously, such as Caroline Noakes, the then Immigration Minister, in July 2019.
In addition, the Home Office regularly engages with the sector through informal routes such as bilateral or small group meetings.