Accession nation refugees win last gasp housing and benefits reprieve

After months of warnings from campaigners, the government
announced a last-minute reprieve for more than 2,500 asylum seekers
who were at risk of being made homeless over the bank holiday

The government had previously announced that National Asylum
Support Service or local authority support would be denied to
asylum seekers from the 10 EU accession countries from 1 May when
their nations joined the EU. The group can still pursue their
asylum claims but the government assumption is that their countries
are now safe.

Since unemployed nationals from the 10 accession countries are not
entitled to any benefits or social housing, campaigners were
concerned that thousands of asylum seekers and their families could
become destitute.

Richard Lumley, an adviser at the Refugee Council, said that the
government’s plans were “in danger” of breaching the European
Convention on Human Rights in two areas: article 8, which states
that everyone has a right to respect for his or her private and
family life; and article 3, the right not to be subjected to
inhuman and degrading treatment.

Late last week the government sent a letter to local authorities
(dated 29 April), stating that Nass would consider applications for
continued support after 1 May from asylum seekers who believed
their human rights were going to be breached.

In the same week, Mr Justice Collins granted interim relief in
three cases brought against Nass and a local authority in the High
Court. He did not, however, go as far as to grant interim relief to
all affected asylum seekers.

The letter says that the Home Office has “made arrangements for
Nass to receive any late representations over the coming days
including the bank holiday weekend”. It adds that “Nass would still
– at this late stage – welcome representations on such matters,
before they [the asylum seeker] or their advisers make application
for judicial review”.

It also asks councils to “urgently ensure” that their asylum
support teams decide whether asylum seekers who believe their human
rights would be breached have a case.

It says that if the team are unable to decide then Nass will offer
local authorities reimbursement of the costs of continuing support
and accommodation for up to 14 days while they carry out an

Last week, a Home Office spokesperson said that Nass and local
authorities would provide support to people in “exceptional cases”
to prevent human rights legislation being breached. He added that
the support will be provided until an individual’s asylum claim is

Also last week, Nass instructed all accommodation providers not to
evict any of the Nass supported asylum seekers, about 1,131, before
their cases had been reviewed.

This means that they will not lose the accommodation and benefits
immediately. No one was evicted over the weekend, and it is unknown
whether any of the 1,483 people supported by councils have been
made homeless.

A Nass spokesperson says:”Nass has asked accommodation providers to
provide an update of accession nationals still in Nass
accommodation. They will then be asked why they are unable to take
up one of the options (see box). If they are unable to provide a
valid reason the landlord will be instructed to issue a notice to

The issue could be decided by a test case of a Slovakian man who
believes the new rules break asylum seekers’ human rights. This
week, the High Court granted the man – who has lived in the UK for
six years – leave to seek a judicial review over the right for a
three-month transition period.

The man has lived in the UK for six years. He has a wife and three
children. Lawyers claim the family only received three and a half
weeks notice that they would lose state support and

They allege the man, who is a trained bricklayer, did not have time
to register to work by 1 May. They will also claim that enforcing
the new rules would breach the human rights of asylum seekers as
they could make them destitute.

The Refugee Council says that 2,571 asylum seekers, mostly Roma,
and their families are at risk of being made homeless. It has
called for transitional arrangements to be put in place for three
months giving people more time to find accommodation and

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the organisation, asks: “Would
it really hurt to let these families stay in their homes for a few
more weeks while the adults find a job?”

But a Home Office spokesperson rejects the calls and says letters
were sent out to all the asylum seekers by 16 April informing them
that support would be withdrawn. She adds that Nass outreach teams
followed up the letters with home visits.

Peter Gilroy, director of Kent social services and asylum
spokesperson for the Association of Directors of Social Services,
has more than 200 asylum seekers in the county who could become
homeless. He also calls for transitional arrangements.

He says the letters were not sent early enough and criticises the
fact that they are in English. “Once again local government is
being asked to pick up the pieces of a policy that could have been
better managed.”

Gilroy says that councils had a legal duty to look after the
children of destitute asylum seekers under the Children Act 1989
and that he would be extending this support to the whole family.
“We are not going to separate parents from their children,” he

Liverpool Council, which has 220 to 240 asylum seekers who may
become destitute, says it is prepared to take children into care
and not support their parents because Home Office guidelines
instructs councils not to support them.

A spokesperson says that the council will have to use its own funds
to pay for looking after any children. “We have a duty to look
after the children and it will come out of our budget. It [looking
after children] wasn’t referred to in guidance the Home Office gave
us,” she adds.

A Home Office spokesperson says that councils had the power to
provide temporary accommodation to asylum seekers who were
returning home and to pay for their journey and would be reimbursed
by the government.

If the Slovakian man’s judicial review is successful it could force
the government to do a U-turn, which will be particularly damaging
coming just weeks after ministers backtracked over plans for a
single-tier of appeal for asylum seekers and the subsequent
resignation of the immigration minister Beverley Hughes.

The legal system will have to decide whether asylum seekers’ rights
have been breached and the three-month transition period

Home Office options

  • People from eight of the countries will have to gain employment
    and register as workers under the Home Office’s workers
    registration scheme in order to be eligible for certain Department
    for Work and Pensions benefits and social housing.
  • Nationals from Malta and Cyprus will not be required to
    register but will still have to be employed in order to
  • People from all 10 states can stay in the UK and look for work
    but be self supporting.
  • The Home Office will pay for them to leave the UK and will pay
    for them to be supported until they travel. However, the government
    is not able to force them to go home.

The 10 European accession countries

  • Malta
  • Cyprus
  • Latvia
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Lithuania
  • Slovenia
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Poland

Migration to UK

Research commissioned by the Home Office, which reviews several
studies on the flow of migrants from the new accession countries,
estimates that the likely flow to the UK will be between 5,000 and
13,000 per year between 2004-10.

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