By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter
More than 50 asylum seekers have come forward for homelessness support in Nottingham having been given just seven days to find accommodation following a Home Office policy change.
Newly-recognised refugees and survivors of trafficking were previously given 28 days to arrange benefits and find alternative accommodation.
A change in practice, so the Home Office can process a backlog of cases, now means instead refugees given leave to remain have just seven days before being evicted from the accommodation they are put up in while officials process their claims.
During a City Council Housing and City Development Scrutiny Committee meeting on October 16, councillors branded the change “shocking”.
Amy Goulden, the head of community safety at the council, who also leads the city’s refugee resettlement work, said seven days is simply not enough time to process benefits and find accommodation.
“Since that communication was given to us around three weeks ago, we know 45 people have sought support from the Nottingham Refugee Forum and our own Housing Solutions teams, and we understand 12 people have presented to homeless support charities in the city who are rough sleeping,” she said.
“We also have a large number of people who are sofa surfing in that cohort as well.”
Asylum seekers who are served a notice to quit their temporary accommodation are called and told to contact the relevant local authority to be housed.
Cllr Kevin Clarke, the leader of the Nottingham Independents and Independent Group, said: “So what do they do with them, say ‘cheerio’?”
Ms Goulden replied to say: “Yes”.
“They are handing over bits of paper that say you need to leave and here is your card that says you can access benefits,” she said.
“They then receive a phone call from Reed whose contract is to give everyone a phone call, and that phone call and advice extends to please go and see your local authority.
“They won’t have had access to any English (lessons) while they’ve been here. The people in the hotel are on £7.50 a week because they are fed while they are at the hotel, and they have had no opportunity to get any funds together.”
Cllr Sam Harris, the chairman of the committee, added: “It sounds like the Home Office thinks we have got the facilities and the funding that we did 10 to 15 years ago.
“I am shocked at the fact they are given their permit to be here temporarily and their eviction notice in one lovely package.”
The change in Home Office policy is leading to a greater reliance on costly emergency accommodation, the council says.
Currently 169 people and families are living in hotels and B&B accommodation in Nottingham, which costs the council £22,000 every day.
The increase in demand for this type of accommodation has also led to inflated costs for each room.
At the beginning of the year a room in a hotel or B&B cost the council £98 per night, but this has since risen to £134.
“We have made strong representations to the Home Office,” Ms Goulden said.
“We have also made strong representations around the amount this is costing us and the issues it is providing us and for our local communities in supporting these vulnerable people.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.