As part of our blog series looking at the isolation that our members face, ‘This is how it feels to be lonely‘ , The Forum’s Mentoring Project Support Worker Heike Langbein explores the reality of trying to build a life in the UK, for just one of the hundreds of individuals that The Forum supports.
The Forum’s Mentoring Project has been supporting Anna over the last couple of months. Anna is originally from Sierra Leone and has been living with her four children in an accommodation provided by the Home Office. She has been in receipt of section 4 support which entitled her to access accommodation and money to support her and her family whilst they were waiting to find out if they will be given asylum. Under section 4, money is given in form of vouchers and not in cash and asylum seekers pay with their Azure Card.
One day, Anna came to our office with good news. The Home Office had approved her application and she has been granted Discretionary Leave to Remain (DLR) in the UK.
We were happy for Anna but this good news also meant changes for her and her children. Anna showed us a letter she had received from the Home Office stating that her section 4 support will be discontinued. She is not considered as destitute any longer since she is now allowed to work and/or to claim mainstream benefits. The letter determined that she has exactly 28 days to find a new place for herself and the children to live and to find work or make a claim for benefits.
This should have been a straightforward case. Anna is a single mum who has received an eviction notice. Therefore, her local authority has a duty to provide accommodation for her and her children. She should also be entitled to make a claim for benefits until she finds a job. However, in order to claim benefits and to register with the local authority, Anna needs a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). A BRP is issued by the Home Office and serves as a proof of ID.
This is when Anna’s case started to become complicated. The Home Office sent Anna a formal letter granting her status on 14th May 2014. One week later, on 21st May, she received a letter from the Home Office stating that her section 4 support will be discontinued.
Anna did not receive her BRP until a month after she received the first letter – on the 11th June, after the 28 day cut off for her to have set up a new life for herself and her children. As a proof of ID, the BRP is essential in order to prove to the Jobcentre or the local authority that Anna has the right to access public funds. We supported Anna to make a claim for benefits but we knew that the Department for Work and Pensions and the local authority would not start assisting her before they had seen her BRP.
Anna’s case is not alone. The Red Cross recently published a report on the ‘Move-On Period’ pointing out that 28 days do not give new refugees sufficient time to find work or claim benefits and find a new place to live. The Mentoring Project has been supporting several families and individuals this year who have been granted refugee status or other forms of permission to stay. It has been a frustrating and time-consuming experience for us. We constantly explain to staff working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that refugees are entitled to apply for a National Insurance Number. Refugees have permission to work or can make a claim for benefits. We have accompanied clients to extremely distressing appointments at housing offices in different boroughs in London to support them to access council housing.
We also went with Anna to her local council and she was given temporary accommodation that she and her children would not end up being homeless when the 28 day ‘grace period’ ended. The Home Office stopped supporting her at the end of the 28 days although the DWP had not processed Anna’s claim for benefits yet. We put her in touch with the Asylum Support Appeals Project which appealed the decision of the Home Office to discontinue her support. Anna had to go to a hearing in East London and explain her situation to an independent judge. Her mentor accompanied her and looked after the children whilst the hearing was going on. Thanks to ASAP’s support, Anna’s case was remitted to the Home Office for reconsideration. The judge determined that Anna is still entitled to support through the Home Office since she had not received her BRP together with the letter granting her status. Therefore, the 28 day grace period should be applied from the day Anna received her BRP.
Without the support of a mentor who enabled her to attend the hearing, without our negotiation with local authorities and the DWP, and without the Asylum Support Appeals Project, Anna would have struggled to navigate the complex system of support. As funding for legal advice and for support organisations dwindles, the struggles for those who are recognised to have the right to live in the UK are only just beginning.