Local Authority Network: suggested ‘Full Dispersal Model’ Consultation Responses for LAs
Service Provision Gaps
There is a need to undergo a gap analysis – every locality different but significant gaps exist in all service areas.
There is currently no funding available for local authorities, health services and the VCSO sector to meet needs of vulnerable people seeking sanctuary. Without significant additional funding the current gaps in service provision will remain. We ask that the ‘New Burdens Assessment’ looks carefully at wider gaps in service provision such as legal advice, health and wellbeing, ESOL, transport, culturally sensitive
- Under the current system LAs do not have powers or resources to provide accommodation, support, safeguarding, and care to vulnerable asylum seekers, nor do they have the powers to properly scrutinise the private provision of this service. Providing housing to people in need is an essential public service and it’s important that it is delivered in a way that respects people’s rights, needs and dignity. The current setup whereby private contractors procure housing has resulted in poor accommodation (see Chapter 3 HAC 2018; Chapter 7 ICIBI 2018; and Chapters 5 and 6 HAC 2017), in areas where there is already severe pressure on services. Private sector accommodation providers will inevitably be driven by housing costs and unless the incentives (or indeed the contracts) change, the Full Dispersal Model will not result in a fairer and more equitable dispersal system.
- Lack of immigration advice is a big concern and any new system has to take into account and address these gaps see Jo Wilding report recently launched. A helpful map of legal aid deserts here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/legal-aid-deserts/immigration-and-asylum
- Safeguarding people in dispersal accommodation often suffer from mental health issues, and there have instances of self-harm/suicide. While communities and councils are unable (due to resources or powers) to step in to meet the needs of residents. British Red Cross stated that “between January 2020 and February 2021, their teams have supported over 400 individuals living in asylum accommodation who have references to suicidal ideation or attempts recorded in their case notes”. In most instances, deterioration in mental health is due to the knock-on effects that poor accommodation can have on other areas of life. This is mirrored by research conducted by the Refugee Council, a UK charity supporting asylum seekers, who found that 61% of asylum seekers experience serious mental distress whilst refugees are 500% more likely to have mental health needs than the UK population (see Red Cross Report ‘Far From Home: why asylum accommodation needs reform’.
- The UK asylum system is mired in delays to asylum decisions, which often are overturned on appeal. The length of time people spend waiting for decisions has a significant detrimental impact on wellbeing and mental health, employment and social outcomes. Speedier decision-making for individuals who are most likely to get a positive decision would help ease asylum accommodation burdens and improve outcomes.
- Learning English is the key for new arrivals to be able to gain employment and settle successfully into new communities. ESOL provision remains inadequate for new arrivals across the UK, with particular gaps in England noted. Government cuts to funding for ESOL means many new arrivals often are on extensive waiting lists for classes, with some areas experiencing waiting periods of up to two years. Failure to identify solutions to barriers to learning by including childcare provision also results in many new arrivals not being able to attend classes, with women being most often impacted. Turning-Words-into-Action.pdf (refugee-action.org.uk)
- Transport, notably in England, is a barrier to accessing statutory, voluntary and cultural services, to preventing isolation, and is especially important for rural areas. Low level of asylum support (£40.85 per week) makes it impossible for sanctuary seekers to meet transport costs themselves especially if located in rural areas. The Wales pilot scheme for asylum seekers is a good example of how the issue of access can be addressed.
- Clarity is needed as the future of the Migrant Help (MH) contract. There needs to be an increase in the availability of enhanced advice support for the more vulnerable sanctuary seekers. The commissioning model whereby local advice providers can provide services to vulnerable people does not work as most organisation are too small and are unable to receive payment on a per head per basis.
- Currently the under-resourced local VCSO sector provides much of the wrap-around support for dispersed asylum seekers. Their work needs to be properly resourced to provide services in existing and/or new dispersal areas.
- New dispersal areas are unlikely to have an established specialist VCSO sector ready to support sanctuary seekers; it is imperative that resources are channeled towards enabling the development of the sector in such areas. We ask that this is taken into account as part of ‘New Burdens’ assessment so that LAs can undertake the work required to develop community infrastructure. In many areas, years of cuts to the VCSO sector means that there are limited local support centers which may also impact capacity at the community level.
- The timing of implementation of the ‘Full Dispersal Model’ means that LAs will have to build capacity within teams and communities at speed. Given resource pressures within councils resulting from recent refugee schemes and lesson learnt thereof (e.g. Homes for Ukraine, ARAP/ACRS), means that early clarity on the funding settlement and what it can be spent on for is urgently needed to enable planning.
- Issues with information sharing has made implementation of other schemes difficult, especially as LAs have had to react quickly (in two tier areas this has been particular issue). This is also challenging in current dispersal areas where sharing information between private contractors, LAs and VCSOs has made it very difficult for place-based support to be provided to complex and vulnerable asylum seekers.
- Lack of funding for move on support and housing across the country. There are best practice examples of services for refugees to move on and access housing/employment but there needs to be resources in place). This resource should factor in Family Reunion applications post positive decision. Furthermore, once status is granted many refugees would like to move to other LA areas to access jobs, join friends and family. At the moment there is no coordinated approach to enabling this relocation, nor funding to support it.
- Lack of planning around local economic opportunities for people who have received refugee status which adds burden to LA’s where they have residents who transition to UC but then are disconnected from viable employment opportunities.
- Investment in improved signposting and local information services are needed to enable new arrivals to navigate local systems and services. Information failures make it harder for sanctuary seekers to access the help and support that they need and are eligible for.
- Inaccurate media reporting and anti-immigration rhetoric leads to misunderstanding and tensions within communities. The new dispersal communities need to be prepared and the VCSO sector supported to facilitate that preparedness.
What would you like to see from a new dispersal system?
We welcome the opportunity to comment on the consultation. We also welcome the flexibility and opportunity for LAs to have more control and autonomy over the Full dispersal model but there is an urgent need for more clarity as to what that ‘local control’ will look like in practice.
A locally managed asylum accommodation and support model delivered by Local Authorities and centrally funded by the UK Government; a system that places people into communities, in residential accommodation and not in institutional settings cut off from mainstream life.
- Ensure public safeguarding, service and oversight - instead of contracting private companies, Home Office should provide full-cost funding directly to Local Authorities, who can then work with the VCSO sector to support integration from day one and promote dignity and inclusion which supports the entire community to remain cohesive.
- Build on the experience of the Syrian Vulnerable Resettlement Scheme and enable Local Authorities to provide accommodation and support to asylum seekers
- Better prepare communities LAs, working with the third and community sector, are best placed to embed welcome and understanding in their communities. We ask that government provides adequate resourcing to LAs so that they can enable community preparedness and cohesion from the start, embracing and building on the spirit of the public support for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees
- Resource and empower the local VCSO sector to provide advice and integration support for asylum seekers (ensuring access to statutory and non-statutory services). Services should be locally procured by local authorities.
- Start Integration on day one Support from arrival, not once leave is granted. This represents ‘invest to save’ given the high number of eventual positive decisions. Not only will outcomes for people be improved but also pressure on local services will be minimized in the medium to long term.
- Ensure Refugee involvement ensure refugees and asylum seekers can themselves use their experiences to shape strategy and policy
- Foster Genuine partnership and collaboration – across government, agencies, local stakeholders and VCSOs. Early and on-going consultative process whereby LAs can engage central government on how and where populations are housed. Ensure small local VCSOs who understand the challenges are involved in shaping the policy.
- We ask that the New Burden Assessment also includes costs related to existing bed spaces in current dispersal areas.
What innovative approaches to accommodation provision would create capacity, thinking of options outside of the traditional private rental sector?
- Other (please specify) Hosting Schemes: The Host for Ukraine Scheme has shone a light on the public appetite for hosting people of sanctuary seeking background. Hosting Schemes for asylum seekers have existed in the UK for a number of years and have been successfully implemented by hundreds of Hosting Schemes across the UK. Engagement and support for existing local Hosting organisations (who have the expertise and established good practices) could provide a positive way of placing sanctuary seekers in families and communities and alleviate pressure on housing.
Local Authorities have indicated that the current dispersal process could be more fair and equitable. What would a fair and equitable process look like?
- Suggestions welcome