Update – 25 September 2019: AIRE transition; Report on section 4 support; Health charging for maternity care & More

Asylum Matters shares periodic updates with our network covering policy developments, campaigning opportunities and general information of interest to refugee and asylum advocates. Here are a few updates from September 2019, including:

  1. AIRE Transition: Issues with Migrant Help Service & Call for Case Studies
  2. Missing the Safety Net: Refugee Action & NACCOM Report on Section 4 Support
  3. Duty of Care: The impact on midwives of NHS charging for maternity care
  4. Department of Health to Expand Cost-Recovery Team
  5. Lessons Not Learned: 15 Years of Failure to Improve Asylum Decision-Making
  6. Funding Opportunity: Families Together Programme
  7. Mears Agrees to Court Process for Evictions in Glasgow
  8. Call for Case Studies: Privacy International Investigating ASPEN Cards


  1. AIRE Transition: Issues with Migrant Help Service & Call for Case Studies

The new Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Assistance services (AIRE) contract, which is delivered by Migrant Help and offers a single integrated national service for asylum seekers, has gone live on 1st September. This means that there is now a single point of contact for all asylum-seekers, independent from the accommodation providers and the Home Office, to report accommodation issues, as well as advice and support regarding asylum support issues. All calls are now going to Migrant Help’s First Response Centre (FRC) which will triage the calls and pass them on to the relevant team for resolution.

Asylum Matters has received widespread reports from our partners that this service is experiencing significant disruption, with lengthy waiting times to get through to the FRC, significant delays in processing applications, issues with ASPEN cards, confusion over escalation routes and more. This is having significant knock-on effects for people in the asylum system and has caused chronic difficulties for many voluntary sector partners. Migrant Help have noted that they’re recruiting new staff to help them cope with the level of demand. In the meantime, we are interested in hearing from our partners about your experience of the transition to the new AIRE contracts and the impact this has had on your services and the people you support. We will use these case studies to inform our advocacy on this issue. If you have any examples or reflections that you would like to share, please get in touch with the Asylum Matters Campaign Manager in your patch (see here for team emails), or if we don’t have anyone near you, feel free to get in touch with me.

  1. Missing the Safety Net: Refugee Action & NACCOM Report on Section 4 Support

New research, recently published by Refugee Action and NACCOM, has revealed that vulnerable people refused asylum in the UK, including pregnant women and those with serious mental health conditions, are being failed by the Government’s asylum support system, leaving them homeless and unable to feed or clothe their families. Missing the Safety Net features evidence from 200 applications for support to the Home Office under Section 4(2) of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. Key findings include:

  • On average, people waited 14 days for a decision on their asylum support application, with almost half (44%) of applicants waiting more than two weeks for a decision, with no other way of supporting themselves;
  • This is seven times longer than the 2-day maximum that decisions should take for the most vulnerable applicants, and three times longer than the 5-day maximum that all decisions should take, according to Home Office guidelines;
  • Some people had waited several months for a decision on their support, with one person waiting 124 days for their decision.

The report recommends a clearer and more robust escalation process for the most vulnerable applicants, to mitigate unnecessary delays, and greater monitoring and accountability for the issues raised in the report.

  1. Duty of Care: The impact on midwives of NHS charging for maternity care

Maternity Action has released a new report exploring midwives’ experiences of looking after women who had been charged, especially in relation to the impact of NHS charging on their professional practice. The report found that midwives often faced contradictions between professional standards in midwifery and the requirements of the charging regulations, especially in relation to advocating for vulnerable women and working to mitigate health inequalities. Several midwives were concerned about racial profiling and discrimination in assessing women’s eligibility for care. Midwives were anxious to separate their role from the charging system although it sometimes fell to them to inform women that they would be charged.  The report concludes that there is an irreconcilable conflict between midwives’ duty of care as set out in professional midwifery standards and in relation to NHS principles and values, and measures required by trusts to identify chargeable women. It notes that this conflict can only be resolved by ending charging for NHS maternity care. The research is backed by the Royal College of Midwives, with Chief Executive Gill Walton endorsing the recommendations of the report in a guest blog for Maternity Action.

  1. Department of Health to Expand Cost-Recovery Team

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has announced plans to expand the NHS’s existing team of cost-recovery experts, backed by £1 million. Since 2018, a team of cost-recovery experts has been established to work with trusts. The expansion of this team is intended to help the NHS reclaim outstanding debts from overseas visitors who are required to pay for their care. According to the announcement, these experts will work with existing cost-recovery managers in NHS trusts to provide additional time and human resource to help identify patients who should be charged, ensure the rules and exemptions are universally understood and consistently implemented in hospitals across the country, and help improve the reporting of income and debt collection. Details can be found here.

  1. Lessons Not Learned: 15 Years of Failure to Improve Asylum Decision-Making

Freedom from Torture, along with seven other leading organisations, has published a new report, Lessons Not Learned, which exposes the historical and systemic failures of asylum decision-making in the UK. It examines 50 reports from 17 organisations, including parliamentary committees, the United Nations, non-governmental organisations, academics and independent inspectorates. The reports identified a striking convergence of views on the fundamental causes of poor decision-making, including: flawed credibility assessments; the unrealistic and unlawful evidential burden placed on applicants; a starting point of disbelief and a broader ‘refusal culture’ in the ethos of the Home Office; an inadequate learning culture and a lack of independent oversight. The list of failures is compounded by the failure or refusal of the Home Office to act on many of the recommendations made, which means the problems have therefore been recurrent and persistent. The report calls on the government to deliver an overhaul of the asylum and immigration system that champions and preserves the dignity of the individual and is informed by insights of people who have been through the system. It also calls for concrete steps to improve credibility assessments and the correct application of the standard of proof. A petition to Priti Patel calling for reform can be signed here.

  1. Funding Opportunity: Families Together Programme

The Families Together Programme is receiving proposals for funding that would see qualified caseworker(s) provide direct support to vulnerable young refugees aged between 13 to 18, who have been through the Refugee Family Reunion process, who struggle to access and fit into the mainstream schooling system in the UK. The caseworker(s) will work directly with young refugees (and their parents/guardians) to provide options and advice relating to education, support preparation and access, and provide ongoing support to ensure continuity and completion.

Families Together is a multi-donor funded grants programme that is managed by the British Red Cross. The programme, through its re-granting and direct implementation work, seeks to influence government policy, procedures and practices that affect refugee and migrant family reunification and integration in the UK. Proposals are to be submitted by 5pm, 11 October 2019. More details, including the Call for Proposals, and the Grant Proposal Form can be found here.

  1. Mears Agrees to Court Process for Evictions in Glasgow

The new housing provider in Scotland, Mears, has said that asylum-seekers living in Glasgow will no longer face eviction without a court order being issued. A Mears spokesperson has said, “We would always hope to avoid a court order, as we believe there is a better way of supporting the service user. We will make sure that service users have access to advice and support, from the Home Office’s AIRE contract provider Migrant Help, to reach the best outcome and we will notify the relevant local authority to enable the move-on process.” The new Mears deal was made with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF). While it is an important commitment.

The agreement to conduct evictions of asylum-seekers with a proper court process means that people seeking asylum are now afforded the same rights as everyone else in Scotland. However, the Scottish Refugee Council have noted that, “Mears have not committed to seeking court orders in all cases, and UK Government policy remains the same.” They have also highlighted that the 300 asylum seekers who have already been told they cannot stay in the UK, are still at risk of eviction, though they are currently still housed by Serco, the outgoing provider, pending legal challenges. Coverage can be found here and here.

  1. Call for Case Studies: Privacy International Investigating ASPEN Cards

Privacy International are carrying out investigative work on the intersection of human rights and digital technology and are increasingly looking into forms of government/corporate surveillance in/through welfare systems. They are currently researching the ASPEN card and how it is used to monitor asylum-seeker’s spending, as previous reports have revealed. If you have any examples of people receiving communications from the Home Office asking them to justify certain expenses; examples of where support was stopped after card monitoring; or generally any insights into how the Home Office monitors these cards, please get in touch with Privacy International.

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