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Catherine Barnard and Fiona Costello explore the reality of navigating accommodation provision for migrant communities, asylum seekers and refugees in the Norfolk town of Great Yarmouth.

Housing for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees has always been a sensitive political issue and difficult to deliver in practice. The government has said that ‘Asylum seekers will be housed in the most basic accommodation possible, including disused army bases and possibly ships, to save money and to dissuade people from coming to the UK’. This blog looks at the reality of accommodation provision and support in the case of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

The headline is: it’s messy and, at times, chaotic.

Why? Different groups have different rights and entitlements under different schemes: as a council worker reported ‘you can have two Afghan nationals, born on the same day, from the same village, fleeing the same Taliban, entitled to completely different help and support’. Some Afghans, who worked for the UK government in exposed or meaningful roles, come to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP). Others come under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Programme (ACRS), such as those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan, or stood up for democratic values, or who are ‘vulnerable people’, such as women and girls at risk.

Still others arrive via small boats where numbers are increasing; they then apply for asylum with a number of Afghan asylum seekers (and others) now placed in a hotel near the Yarmouth sea front. This suggests difficulties in accessing the ARAP/ ACRS routes. In Norfolk, there are currently about 110 Afghans accommodated under either of ARAP/ACRS schemes.

Those arriving under legal routes (ARAP/ACRS) are entitled to immediate indefinite leave to remain (ILR), as well as an unrestricted right to work. They can apply for British citizenship after 5 years’ residence. The funding package for local authorities to help these families integrate includes: £20,520 per person, over three years, for resettlement and integration costs. Funding is also available for education (£4,500 per child), English language provision for adults (£850) and healthcare (£2,600). Local authorities also receive £28 per person, per day, to provide support in the bridging hotels.

Under both schemes, a Housing Costs Fund also provides a top up to help councils meet the costs of renting properties for those that need it. The top up for housing support to those under ARAP/ACRS has, however, caused problems. One local council worker said that it can result in driving up (further) the costs of private rent locally and suggests it is potentially unsustainable because it can leave people in accommodation they cannot actually afford to rent when the government support stops.

Local councils also manage the Ukrainian schemes for those displaced by the war: the UK Family Scheme allows Ukrainian nationals to join family members in the UK and the Ukrainian Sponsorship Scheme (also referred to as ‘Homes for Ukraine’/H4U) allows individuals (and charities, community groups and businesses) to host Ukrainian nationals, including those with no family ties to the UK.  Between March 2022-March 2023, Norfolk hosted 1,955 Ukrainian nationals, including 640 children, with the help of 822 hosts. The Ukrainians are also entitled to work.

By contrast, those who arrive as asylum seekers, rather than under a defined route (as above), are not entitled to work or claim benefits pending the outcome of their claim. Local authorities do not receive any funding to support this group. The individuals themselves receive a standard asylum support rate of £45 per week (£180 per month) for food, clothes and toiletries, or £9.10 per week (£36.40 per month) if food is provided in the accommodation.

So where do these various groups live in the town?

Great Yarmouth, once a flourishing seaside town full of B&B accommodation in fine Edwardian and Victorian buildings for holiday makers, has (now) a significant number of HMOs (House of Multiple Occupation), which were previously B&Bs. Many of these HMOs are notoriously poor quality. The Borough introduced a Selective Licensing Scheme to improve housing and social conditions for private sector tenants in this area, specifically targeting unethical landlords and newly registered HMOs.

However, the government is proposing to (temporarily) remove asylum seekers from HMO licensing requirements as ‘Asylum Accommodation Service Contract (AASC) providers (who act on behalf of the Home Office) have raised concerns that HMO licensing regulation poses a barrier to acquiring such properties’. HMO landlords, especially those struggling with HMO licensing requirements might find the proposed exemption attractive in the future, leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to substandard or inappropriate HMO accommodation.

Great Yarmouth has also seen asylum seekers placed in hotel accommodation for the first time in almost 20 years. In late 2022, SERCO, holding a Home Office contract, arranged for a hotel to accommodate 70 asylum seekers, all single men from 15 countries, but mainly from (in order) Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. The local Council successfully sought an injunction against using any further hotels in the town centre to house asylum seekers.

What about the Ukrainians, now ready for move-on accommodation after the H4U finishes? Some have been lucky: we know of two host families who bought a separate house for their Ukrainian families to live in until they return to Ukraine. But others are struggling to afford to rent in Yarmouth when on a low income or in receipt of Universal Credit. Some have found private landlords reluctant to rent to non-UK nationals due to having to navigate digital immigration status.

On 10 June 2023 the government introduced a homelessness prevention grant, providing £150 million to local authorities to ensure Ukrainians can be helped to move into their own homes and reduce the risk of homelessness. Great Yarmouth, which was issued 128 visas under the H4U scheme, has been allocated £131,627.

Short term, ad hoc solutions – such as rent top-ups and HMO licensing exemptions – will have long term impacts on local towns, including on refugees and asylum seekers themselves placed in unsustainable, or unsuitable accommodation, but it will also affect the local population.

By Catherine Barnard, Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing Europe, and Fiona Costello, Research Associate, University of Cambridge.


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