Thursday, 26 November 2015

Charities warn of more tragedies unless flaw in transition system is fixed

Child starved to death after benefits delay

The government has been warned it must urgently fix flaws in its support system for successful asylum seekers, after a destitute child starved to death in temporary accommodation in Westminster.

Further tragedies are increasingly likely as more asylum claims are processed while support funding dries up, organisations claim.

Details of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of ‘child EG’ and the unrelated death of his mother ‘Mrs G’ surfaced in a serious case review and a letter sent to the government by child safety experts at Westminster Council, a flagship Conservative borough.

The case review found that the family had become dependent on ‘ad hoc’ charitable handouts despite a successful asylum claim because of ‘significant problems’ transferring the family from Home Office to mainstream welfare support services.

The family of three was forced to ‘actually become homeless’ before local authorities could offer official help, it added.

The Westminster letter - sent last March but only released to Inside Housing this week - urges Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions officials to review and improve transitional support for successful asylum seekers.

‘Joined up government should be able to manage the transition from one form of public support to another,’ Terry Bamford, chair of Westminster’s Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, wrote in the letter.

Asylum seeker charities this week warned of a deterioration in government support services in the 18 months since the letter was sent.

The Home Office axed its funding for Refugee Integration and Employment Service - which paid for transitional support for successful asylum seekers - last September, they point out.

Judith Dennis, policy officer at the Refugee Council, said the problems highlighted in the review were common.

Daoud Zaaroura, chief executive of the North of England Refugee Service, said the issues raised in Westminster’s letter were unresolved. ‘Without RIES, or something similar, there is a real threat of the tragic case of EG happening all over again.’

Dave Garratt, chief executive of Refugee Action, said the newly appointed immigration minister, Mark Harper, must ‘urgently address the shortfall in resourcing for these essential services’.

‘We are deeply concerned that our caseworkers are seeing increasing numbers of recent refugees who are being forced onto the streets,’ he added.

James Thomas, director of family services at Westminster Council, said it had provided more details of the case to the Home Office at its request.

A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency said: ‘We have already made several improvements to transitional arrangements.’ Organisations housing asylum seekers for the UKBA must now notify local authorities when applications are successful and refugees can remain in UKBA-funded accommodation for one month after a decision. Funding is given to voluntary groups which offer support and advice, the spokesperson added.

What the sector thinks

‘Even when we had funding for RIES, it would take our staff up to two months to secure all of the benefit entitlements for some families.’

Daoud Zaaroura, chief executive, North of England Refugee Service

‘Unacceptable delays in these transition arrangements are all too common, resulting in homelessness and hunger.’

Dave Garratt, chief executive, Refugee Action

‘Delays have left these clients in a precarious situation and largely or entirely reliant on the support of friends, community members and local organisations.’

James Souter, Asylum Welcome


September 2009
Family moves to Westminster

March 2010
Child ‘EG’ and his mother die

March 2011
Westminster letter warns government to review transitional support

September 2011
Home Office axes funding for the Refugee Integration and Employment Service

October 2012
Letter released to Inside Housing

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