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Rough sleeping spike 'fuelled by government moving refugees out of hostels after 28 days', council leader says

29 February 2024, 15:17 | Updated: 29 February 2024, 15:52

Homeless people sleeping on the pavement outside retails chain stores store along Oxford Street in central London
Homeless people sleeping on the pavement outside retails chain stores store along Oxford Street in central London. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The leader of a central London council has claimed that the government policy of moving asylum seekers out of hostels after 28 days has fuelled an increase in rough sleeping.

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Westminster City Council said that the number of people sleeping on its streets had risen by more than 900% over the past year.

It comes as new snapshot figures showed that rough sleeping rose by 27% in England overall in 2023 compared to 2022.

Refugees are housed in hostels for four weeks from when they get a UK residence permit before being given a 'notice to quit'.

This was slashed even further for a few months last year, when some asylum seekers were only housed for seven days, before the Home Office restored the period to 28 days.

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London, UK. Tesco express shop in Central London, with homeless man sleeping outside on pavement in cold weather
London, UK. Tesco express shop in Central London, with homeless man sleeping outside on pavement in cold weather. Picture: Alamy

The situation has led to concerns that vulnerable asylum seekers are at greater risk of becoming homeless, despite a £2 billion government pledge to end rough sleeping, which was announced in 2022.

Westminster, which is controlled by Labour, said that it spends £7 million a year to help people who arrive in the borough in need of housing.

Cllr Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "As the centre of London, Westminster is a destination for rough sleepers from both the UK and abroad and we see new faces arriving all the time.

Homeless person on Oxford street on his I-phone connected to a public port, London, England, UK
Homeless person on Oxford street on his I-phone connected to a public port, London, England, UK. Picture: Alamy

He told LBC News: "We spend far more than any other council - £7m a year – to help those arriving here and we have a strong track record of working with the local voluntary sector, the GLA and central Government on these issues.

"However, it is clear the Government policy of trying to move asylum seekers out of hotels and hostels in 28 days is resulting in a spike in rough sleeping numbers – in Westminster’s case by more than 900% in the past year.

"People from often traumatic backgrounds are being catapulted out of Home Office accommodation with scant preparation for what that means.

"The result is a growing number of cases where asylum seekers who have been initially placed across London and further afield end up sleeping rough on Westminster’s streets.

As people pass by on Piccadilly, a person sits on the pavement begging for mone
As people pass by on Piccadilly, a person sits on the pavement begging for mone. Picture: Getty

"We want to work with central Government to help ease new arrivals into UK life, but the way to do that is through a well-managed process in partnership with all local authorities, not commandeering hotels and then batch processing asylum seekers against the clock.

"That is a cosmetic sleight of hand which the UK taxpayer ends up paying for."

A government spokesperson said: "We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are correctly decided without unnecessary delays on an individual, objective, and impartial basis and we are working with local authorities to manage the impact of asylum decisions.

"Once a newly recognised refugee is issued a biometric residence permit, they get 28 days to move-on from asylum accommodation and are given support and advice through Migrant Help on how to access Universal Credit, employment opportunities and where to get assistance with housing."

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Street homelessness rose in London and England more broadly in 2023, the most recent figures available.

The capital was the worst affected area, with an estimate of 1,132 people sleeping rough last year, up from 858 people in 2022.

Around 3,898 people were thought to be sleeping on the streets across England in 2023, a marked increase from 3,069 the year before. Rough sleeping is down 7% on 2019.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: "Whilst we have made good progress and rough sleeping remains below pre-pandemic levels, there is more work to be done to meet our ambition to end it entirely, and we will continue to work with local authorities to help people off the streets for good."

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Ministers earlier this week announced a funding package of about £220m funding for councils to build more than 800 homes for rough sleepers and help stop families from becoming homeless.

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan said: “We are working alongside councils and charities to do all we can to help rough sleepers off the streets and to prevent homelessness.

"Today’s announcement brings the total funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping to an unprecedented £2.4bn, meaning we can help thousands of the most vulnerable people and give them the support they need to rebuild their lives."

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