Surfing the various housing websites and blogs and crossing swords with a few retired SS officers on twitter concerning the immigration situation I thought I would take my life in my hands and chuck in a perspective from my own side.
PLEASE TAKE NOTE: This piece is not concerned with the ethics, morality, whys and wherefores of what Britain should do in this current crisis.
All I offer is some information on the ‘How’ of it, from the perspective of someone who has spent most of his life in housing advice and homelessness prevention and who has a fairly in depth knowledge of social housing provision, homelessness and state benefits.
I’m just pointing to some legal and logistical issues that will need to be addressed if, as Cameron recently stated he will take on 20,000 Syrian refugees.
20,000 over 5 years.
There are 333 local authorities in the UK, ranging from tiny non- existent ones like West Somerset to gigantic behemoths Like Westminster and Manchester.
If government decided to spread 4,000 people per year equally then each council will have to deal with 12 families a year, that’s 60 families per authority over 5 years.
Believe it or not this isn’t a lot of people. My old employers, Lewisham council in South East London get on average 500 people a week through it’s homelessness doors, so 12 families in a year isn’t a stretch even for an inner city, cash strapped council like them who will see 12 people before lunch on any given day.
My contacts in homelessness across the country began the week when the announcement was made, desperately trying to track down information on how it would affect them, having received no information whatsoever from government.
So I was fielding numerous texts and emails from homelessness managers of my acquaintance asking if I had heard anything about how Westminster was going to allocate families and where to. I didn’t know either.
However last week I trained Purbeck council in Dorset and Taunton Deane council in Somerset who said that they far from being in the dark about how they would cope they were actually getting inundated with calls from local people offering accommodation.
I have seen local newspapers in London and in petrol stations on my trips down the M4 and M3 this week where the front covers all display variations on the same stories “Local residents rally to offer homes to migrants” so notions of 20,000 people devouring council housing are unlikely.
On the figures we are currently working with it would seem more than probable that the role of the local authority will simply be to match up a family with a local landlord.
There may well be a problem in inner city areas, given benefit caps v. market rents and shortage of accommodation, but big cities are only a small part of Britain. In fact as a strategy, government would be best advised to relocate Syrian refugees to more rural areas where there isn’t the pressure on housing provision. The rents are lower, which means the drain on benefits, isn’t so great either.
Eligibility for homelessness
This is where it gets trickier. In order to obtain assistance from a homelessness unit an applicant has first to be ‘Eligible for assistance’ (Section 185 Housing Act 1996).
Generally speaking, asylum seekers aren’t eligible for full homelessness assistance. They also aren’t eligible for full benefits which would enable them to eat and pay rent.
Note: Asylum seekers are not the same legal category as ‘Refugees’.
So wherever the Syrian people are placed and whoever has the responsibility for rehousing them, government is going to have to address the law relating to entitlement to benefits and housing assistance.
The main way to do this is to apply the regulations on the ‘Class D’ group of people, amended by the Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 which means people can be fast-tracked through by a government decision without having to figure out if they are actually refugees or not. The regulation reads:
“They substitute a new class of eligible persons who have humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is a form of leave granted to persons who do not qualify for refugee status but who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to their state of origin”
Actually this happens every few years. It happened back in 1995 when the volcano on Montserrat blew up, leaving the inhabitants without an island to stand on. They were all given emergency status.
It happened back in the 70s with the Ugandan Asians and it happened more recently when Lebanon fell apart and later on, Zimbabwe.
This seems to be the preferred choice at the moment, with Cameron announcing that all Syrian’s being accepted will have to have to be assessed by UN workers in refugee camps checking documents.
This means that the migrants will enter the UK with their immigration status already In place, avoiding the usual nonsense of people fetching up with no status and having to wait years for the Home Office to make their assessment, usually having first misplaced the documents more than once.
They will be able to find a home, claim benefits and more importantly, work to support themselves and I’m sure the generosity of the British people will ensure that more than a few jobs come their way as well.
So at the front end of the councils, where the administration of all this is going to be focussed it doesn’t look likely to be too much of a problem or a strain on resources. The legal machinery exists as it has historically and the public have responded in a way which means the homelessness unit doesn’t have to scrabble around to find the accommodation.
The people in the homelessness units that I have spoken to are breathing out and are more than chilled about it all. Panic over.