Bulletin 7 of the Information and Data Hub presents the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people in the immigration system across the UK
This is the seventh bulletin of the COVID-19 Information and Data Hub which presents the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people in the immigration system across the UK.
It presents data from two sources.
- Section 1: Survey findings
- Section 2: NACCOM update
SECTION 1: Findings of Survey of Refugee and Migration Organisations
- The survey received 49 responses from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The largest groups of respondents were operating in London (22%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (14%), followed by 10% in the North West, 8% in UK-Wide and in the East Midlands.
- Turnover: 43% under £150,000; 39% between £150,000 and £1 million; 18% over £1 million.
- Of the 49 respondents who completed this survey, 25 respondents (51%) also participated in Survey 6, 15 (31%) in the last 3 surveys and 9 (18%) have participated in all seven surveys.
- The most common client groups (where respondents were able to select multiple main client groups) were: People who have been refused asylum who are living in the community (69%), People seeking asylum who are destitute (67%) or living in Home Office accommodation – Initial Accommodation or Dispersal (63%) and Refugees who have received their status in the UK (63%).
- The most common primary activities (where respondents were able to select multiple options) were generalist advice and signposting (78%), Community/social/emotional support activities (69%), Integration support (59%), Specialist advice and casework e.g. immigration advice, housing advice (49%) Education (including ESOL) (49%).
2. Changes in the needs of people within the immigration system
- The most common needs of clients were similar to those reported in Surveys 5 and 6 (July and September, respectively). Isolation and loneliness (55%), deteriorating mental health (39%), homelessness or risk of homelessness (37%) and food poverty (35%) remain the top 4 client needs.
- When asked about emerging client needs, 3 organisations raised the detrimental impacts of ongoing online service provision, such as social activities and ESOL, which their clients still have barriers to accessing, and which fail to provide the same quality and benefit as face-to-face services. 2 organisations highlighted the effect that cold winter weather and a lack of suitable clothing is having on their clients’ ability to safely socialise and take part in activities outside. Both of these issues compound high rates of isolation and loneliness. 2 respondents discussed an increasing complexity of need and overlapping vulnerabilities among their clients.
3. Barriers preventing people from accessing services
- As with Surveys 5 and 6, the top three most common barriers faced by clients were tech poverty (50%), changes in availability of services providing destitution and food support (50%), and language issues exacerbated by social distancing or remote service delivery (44%), including for medical and statutory support services.
- Changes in availability of destitution services has increased by 10%, while reports of digital illiteracy have fallen by 10% since September.
- Poverty and inability to access meaningful community activities have both risen by 7% as reported barriers. As one respondent highlighted, ‘meaningful activities in the community’ means not just social and cultural events but forms of civic and democratic participation that are important for collective and individual empowerment.
4. Hotels and Barracks
- Of 49 respondents, 30 (61%) are supporting people housed in hotels, of whom 3 (6%) are also supporting people housed in barracks, and 19 (39%) are not supporting anyone housed in these forms of Initial Accommodation.
- The top 5 issues reported by organisations who are supporting people in hotels/barracks were:
- Issues with facilities and physical space, including inadequate or inappropriate food, reported by 77% respondents.
- Inability to meet essential living needs (no cash support) (77%)
- Social isolation and lack of access to mental health support (73%)
- Lack of access to legal advice (63%)
- Security risks including vulnerability to hate crime and conflict with staff, authorities or other residents (57%)
- ‘Other’ issues included clients’ lack of access to clean clothing and phones and devices for internet use that they can use privately, and inability to pay for travel.
We asked organisations to tell us about the main challenges they are facing in meeting the needs of people in hotel/barrack accommodation in their area.
- Challenges related to access or reaching clients (8 organisations): Two described difficulty in gaining initial access and another commented on the length of time taken to build a relationship with the provider. Respondents also reported concerns about getting information to clients and ensuring they have the technological means to reach out, either to them or other necessary services. COVID cases in hotels have also prevented access.
- Challenges related to the service providers (5 organisations): These included a lack of understanding of the asylum system; poor management of Covid-19, which in one instance resulted in service providers entering without being informed about Covid cases; lack of coordination and clarity of roles; and gatekeeping.
- Challenges related to capacity (3 organisations): Organisations mentioned capacity issues due to increased needs on top of existing service provision, particularly for small organisations, and another cited the challenge of enrolling large numbers of clients beyond their usual client base. Respondents were concerned that they could not actually meet the material needs of people in this accommodation. It was highlighted that accommodation providers were relying on small charities and contracted organisations are not meeting needs.
- Challenges related to lack of coordination (3 organisations): when clients are moved between locations or when hotels close and the difficulties in trying to keep up with the different locations and ensure continued access to support and legal advice.
Two organisations commented on positive outcomes in support being provided at hotels. One reported high levels of sector collaboration and coordination resulting in effective delivery of regular drop in advice sessions, a wellbeing activities programme, clothes donations, family support work, and an onsite GP team all operating at the hotel. The other reported overall good coordination by the Local Authority.
One organisation’s experience of working with clients in a hotel:
‘We are extremely small with only part time staff. We have been leading the local response with another charity that is volunteer-led; capacity for both of us is a major issue. We have also had long-running and extensive problems gaining access to the hotel to hand out even basic information about local services, including not being able to get hold of a representative without the local council weighing in. We are about to resolve these but have been asked by [provider] to provide a pro forma for this model going forward for the other (possibly 60?) contingency hotels they are running - we will do this as we feel it is necessary, but are really shocked by [provider]'s lack of preparation and reliance on extremely small charities. We are also shocked that larger charities are not stepping up. Finally, [provider] / Home Office/ [contracted support organisation] at this hotel all seem to have a limited understanding of the asylum system which is really impacting on our ability to offer support.’
- In order to respond to the issues their clients are facing in hotels and barracks, the majority of respondents said they need clarity and certainty about the future of the accommodation provision (73%) and good communication with accommodation providers (70%). Good communication with the Home Office was selected by 47% and more staff or volunteers by 43%.
- One respondent noted the challenges of ‘keeping spirits up’ in the face of ongoing lack of clarity and certainty.
- Two respondents noted that they are working beyond their remit and capacity to meet needs that contracted organisations have failed to address, and so the main support they need is to be funded to do this work.
5. Hate crime, discrimination and far right activity
Hate crime and discrimination experienced by clients
- 35% (17) respondents reported that their clients have experienced a rise in discrimination and/or hate crime over the last six months; 18% (9) said that their clients have not, while 47% (23) said they do not know.
- When asked to describe this, 6 respondents described increased harassment and hate crime in and outside hotels and other asylum accomodation, including racist verbal and physical abuse, racist and far right graffiti on hotel walls, homophobic and transphobic groups “invading” accommodation, and demonstrations outside hotels. 2 other respondents reported an increase in racist and Islamophobic abuse and violent threats experienced in public areas, such as outside schools or in the street.
- Of the 39 organisations who answered this question, 67% (26) are reporting, or supporting clients to report, hate crime experienced by their clients; 59% (23) are monitoring the hate crime experienced by their clients; 49% (19) are coordinating with statutory authorities on the issue and 46% (18) are raising awareness among their clients of their rights and available support regarding hate crime.
Impact of hate crime and far right activity on organisations
- 7 organisations (14%) told us that the level of hate mail, online attacks and/or negative press they receive has recently increased, in forms such as hate speech and racist trolling on social media, bad press in newspapers, and threatening emails and voice messages sent to the organisation. 40 organisations (82%) said the have not seen an increase, and 2 (4%) said they do not know. One respondent reported a significant increase following media coverage of the channel crossings. Another respondent highlighted increased “misconception about asylum seekers/ migrants bringing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- The percentage of respondents who had experienced a rise in hate mail, online attacks or negative press was higher among those who had people with lived experience of the immigration system in senior leadership or management positions: 36% and 42% respectively.
- The majority of respondents perceive the threat level to their work from far right groups and individuals to be ‘Moderate’ (39%) or ‘Low’ (31%).
- 20% of respondents (10 organisations) reported that hate crime or far right activity is impacting the work that they do (63% said no, 16% did not know). This proportion was higher among those who have someone with lived experience of the immigration system in a senior leadership or senior management position: 45% and 42% respectively.
- Organisations described the increased pressure this activity creates on their work, through both its impact on client mental health, and the way it diverts focus from other areas of support. Relatedly, one organisation reported having to do more outreach work as clients are fearful to seek support; another organisation has had clients calling up to ask if it is safe to go out. Staff safety and wellbeing was also mentioned by two organisations, one reported the emerging need to advise staff on personal security and another the negative impact on morale.
6. Destitution & evictions, night shelters, winter
- 71% of respondents (35) told us that they are supporting people who have been evicted or are facing eviction. 61% (30) told us they support people who will be at risk of rough sleeping due to the closure of night shelters this winter.
Of the organisations whose clients are facing increased housing insecurity or risk of homelessness:
- 66% told us they are responding by providing or procuring legal advice for clients. This includes challenging decisions to evict, making Section 4 applications on COVID grounds, and exploring options for judicial review.
- 54% are securing referrals to other housing providers and 43% are negotiating with housing providers: including maintaining and building relationships with housing providers, and working with them to secure new accommodation that clients can use, including in the private rental sector.
- 51% are negotiating with the local authority: through both working with and building closer relationships with the local authority, and through lobbying. One organisation discussed the ‘fine line’ between what local authorities cannot do, and what they choose not to do because it is difficult, or because of the culture of the hostile environment. This organisation has been working to develop a more nuanced perspective among council staff, facilitating closer working with representatives from the sector who understand the experiences of people who are homeless with NRPF and who are ‘hidden’ from much statutory homelessness outreach work, as well as providing accurate guidance on their responsibilities and abilities as a local authority.
- 49% have been mapping local providers and services.
- Organisations also discussed the necessity of information sharing for keeping up to date with policies, particularly when working to appeal decisions or lobby councils.
- As well as developing relevant expertise within their own organisation (26%), several respondents told us they have been drawing on the expertise of specialist organisations or professionals, while another told us about organising workshops on the issue for others at network events.
- 14% respondents said they are creating more capacity as a destitution housing provider, such as hostel space for destitute asylum seekers. Respondents also told us about new projects they are developing, for example, targeted holistic support projects, including legal advice, for people facing destitution at different stages of status acquisition and a specific project set up to support people being moved on from council accommodation after the end of Everyone In.
- In ‘other’ respondents told us they are using their hardship fund to procure emergency accommodation for clients, or using an emergency accommodation budget.
We also asked what support organisations need to respond sustainably to housing insecurity.
- 5 mentioned information and advice, including the need for: increased access to solicitor level housing advice for people in the immigration system, advocacy training, access to more up-to-date Home Office and Local Authority policies and support for contesting decisions (such as no priority need) on a timely basis.
- 6 organisations reported the need for funding to be able to increase capacity either as an accommodation provider or for providing support around housing issues.
- Several organisations raised the need for more capacity, particularly emergency accommodation options and increased options available for clients with No Recourse to Public Funds, failed asylum seekers and safe housing to specifically address the needs of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum.
7. Access to Justice
- Of the 48 respondents to this question, 77% said their clients were facing issues caused by delay, 67% said that remote service provision is impacting the quality and accessibility of legal advice, 65% cited technological or communication difficulties in remote interviews, and 63% cited COVID-related capacity issues faced by legal advice providers.
- ‘Other’ barriers include: reduced access to free legal support leaving clients resorting to expensive options; lack of information about free legal advice options and financial support including access to fee waivers; and the lack of face to face work resulting in clients not gaining reassurance of case progress.
- The lack of access to good quality legal representation for those in immigration detention was raised elsewhere in the survey.
11 respondents are working with people participating in remote interviews, tribunals or courts with the Home Office.
The most common issues faced by their clients include: lack of access to the necessary technology or wifi and the communication issues of the remote set-up (language barriers made worse, no body language etc.). Other concerns include lack of appropriate space (where people are living) to participate in interviews and the stress caused by uncertainty and the lack of information about the process, one respondent’s client had received the notification by text message.
One respondent told us that remote interviews are working well.
8. Operational needs
- Top operational needs: ensuring internet access for clients, 42%, management time/capacity to develop new ways of working 33% and more staff 31%.
- Since Survey 6, in September, the need for management time/capacity for risk assessments has fallen 21% and the need for more staff has reduced by 10% whereas the operational needs to reach people in the immigration system, and for clarity about government policy and processes have both increased. One organisation highlighted the difficulty of keeping up with changes in Home Office policy and continually having to update operations.
- Emerging operational needs include: issues related to staffing, including job insecurity or concerns about losing staff as projects/services are paused, and the difficulty of recruiting for short-term funded positions; and engaging the most isolated and disadvantaged clients, increasingly so due to lack of wifi and lack of tech.
Impacts of local lockdown, or anticipation of local lockdown on operational needs and staff wellbeing
- At the time of responding, 41% of participants were under ‘Tier 2’ measures and 41% under ‘Tier 3’/full lockdown.
- The operational challenges of changing restrictions included: having to halt or reverse plans to re-open or increase face-to-face services; reduced ability to reach clients; difficulty of keeping clients informed about lockdown rules and service changes; concerns about the prolonged impact of remote service delivery on clients and inability to take on new clients; being less able to identify needs and ensure or maintain engagement with remote service delivery; the difficulty of planning in the face of uncertainty; and general the time and capacity spent keeping up with and responding to changes.
- Three organisations, responding while in the Tier 2 stage, reported that their staff were coping and less affected by the changes than they were under the first lockdown. However the majority of respondents under Tier 2, Tier 3 or full lockdown restrictions reported a negative impact on staff wellbeing including increased anxiety and stress due to changes in ways of working, increased worries for both clients and in their personal lives, and the cumulative impact of remote working and ‘Zoom-fatigue’ on staff morale and efficacy.
9. Confidence & Funder support
- 51% of organisations told us they were moderately confident that their organisation can survive and thrive through the next 12 months, and 35% told us they were very confident. These responses are consistent with the confidence levels expressed in Surveys 5 and 6.
- 65% of organisations told us that they have secure funding beyond the end of this financial year, while 27% do not, and 8% were not sure about their organisation’s finances. A breakdown of funding security by organisation turnover shows that 89% of respondents from organisations in the top turnover bracket know they have secure funding beyond March 2021, compared to 58% in the middle bracket and 62% in the lowest bracket.
- The most common changes respondents had encountered in funder support were a narrowing of programme priorities (35%), reduced maximum value of available grants (29%), and a reduction of existing commitments, e.g. reducing multi-year to single-year grants (24%).
- ‘Other’ responses included difficulty accessing longer-term funding (mentioned by 4 organisations), concern about funder priorities, such as grants to spend in short periods, less funding for core costs and not meeting criteria for ‘front-line’ service with no office premises.
- 3 respondents mentioned the supportive and flexible response from funders and how this has helped with the need to make operational changes.
SECTION 2: NACCOM Update
1. The NACCOM Network
There are 135 NACCOM members in total, of those 76 are FULL members providing accommodation to people who have been refused asylum, refugees and migrants with no recourse to public funds. Members also offer: drop ins, financial support, legal advice, language services, befriending, volunteering, orientation. We have also distributed £617,000 of grants to 67 frontline organisations as part of the Respond and Adapt Programme, of whom 34 are non-NACCOM members.
Last year, full members accommodated 3,373 people across the network and provided 423,552 nights of accommodation via 25 hosting schemes supported 986 people, 32 housing/flat schemes (306 houses across the network) housed 1648 people, and 18 night shelters supported 739 people. Since September, we consulted with 161 people from 62 NACCOM member organisations, 35 RAP grantees, and 18 partner organisations via one to one conversations, regional hub meetings, and fortnightly all member COVID-19 calls to identify their needs and those of the people they support.
2. Ensuring adaptation during Covid-19
- Reduced night shelters. During the first lockdown, members followed public health guidance and closed their night shelters. Today, most members have not reopened their shelters and are looking for winter homelessness solutions including working with local authorities to secure self-contained accommodation.
- Increased hosting. During the first lockdown, many members offering hosting closed their provision due to public health concerns from hosts. After supporting hosts to risk assess their provision, we are seeing a return to hosting and increasing demand for this provision.
- Increased Home Office and Local Authority provision. Many members supported their guests to access Home Office or Local Authority accommodation under the public health-specific provision for people who are appeal rights exhausted, or who have NRPF restrictions respectively. While the Home Office resumed support discontinuations on 15 September, this was halted on 2 November following a High Court judgement. Similarly, the Everyone In initiative by Local Authorities ended in September and has been succeeded by the Next Steps and Protect programmes which enable Local Authorities to sustain some of this support until at least March 2021 – it does not meet need.
- Addressing digital exclusion. NACCOM supported members to provide their residents with cash and data during the first lockdown. Many members and RAP grantees have used their grants to overcome digital barriers: wifi access, data, handsets/tablets, and digital skills. It is apparent that these barriers continue and are a daily challenge for organisations as they try to provide services to people remotely and/or connect them with other local services.
- Overcoming social isolation. Members remain concerned about the deteriorating wellbeing of their guests and people housed in Home Office accommodation. Accommodation providers have increased security following far right activity in the summer, preventing charities from providing people with specialist and social support. Also many people housed by the Home Office during the pandemic were relocate far from specialist services in poor quality hotels. We have had reports of people experiencing acute mental health crises as a result.
3. Key practice issues
- Sustainability. Members and RAP grantees are preoccupied with the new funding cliff edge in March 2021. Many secured short-term funds during the Covid-19 crisis that ends in March. Some are now using reserves while they await funder decisions. Some have also been advised by funders where they have multi-year agreements that they only have one year of secured funding. The lack of clarity about funder strategy beyond March 2021 is preventing many members and RAP grantees from planning their service offer beyond this period.
- Accommodation. This year NACCOM members turned away 1849 people who were destitute due to lack of accommodation. New referral routes via LA's into accommodation have resulted in reduced NRPF spaces. We are considering how can we support the sector to address this gap without feeling pressured to set up communal night shelters which could bring increased risk of infection.
- End of EU Settlement Scheme. Some NACCOM members support destitute people from the EU with NRPF. Several thousand people who are living with some form of vulnerability (domestic violence, digital barriers etc) are expected to not receive settled status and become homeless. We are planning to work with members and Housing Justice to raise awareness and support members to deliver support (if within their remit), or engage new members to undertake this work.
- Legal routes. Access to information and legal advice and representation is in acute shortage for members. Although 26% of members now offer legal routes, either via inhouse casework or collaboration with partners, there is an acute shortage. As most the people they support are people seeking asylum who have had a refusal, this is a priority need.
- Destitution. Organisations have provided destitution funds to people during the pandemic in diverse ways. It would be helpful to revisit the work done on this in the summer to explore strengthening approaches and opportunities for partnerships.
4. Advocacy responses
- Destitution research. This research aims to examine the impacts of destitution across the UK on people who have been refused asylum, new refugees and migrants with no recourse to public funds. It aims to draw evidence from peoples lived experiences during covid-19 and continuing support. The research will produce evidence on the human, economic and public health cost of destitution, a compelling analysis of viable solutions and the changes needed to achieve them, and an assessment of responses during covid-19. The evidence base will be rich in both human impact stories and assessment of the economics and public health implications, for organisations to use in their advocacy work to end to destitution. It will launch in early 2021.
- End destitution. Our short term advocacy strategy is to work with homelessness, housing, migrant and refugee rights charities to advocate for the maintenance of accommodation provide to people by the Home Office and Local Authority respectively during the pandemic. Longer term, we are calling for a long term, funded capacity for Local Authorities to house people with NRPF conditions.
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