Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

Social Housing White Paper | Fighting Human Trafficking | Crossing the Cannel | Evictions

Right to a Home  |  Wed Nov 18 2020

Specific sites NI:

Belfast City Council's planning committee approved plans for residential development of the Monagh Bypass / Glenmona site in West Belfast - including 549 social and 104 affordable homes. The development will be built by Braidwater Group and managed by Apex Housing Association.

Co-ownership NI

Co-Ownership -- the Department for Communities’ main direct delivery partner for affordable housing, with most other housing associations in Northern Ireland primarily funded through grant allocated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive -- has supported home ownership in 29,000 NI households and currently owns a stake in 9,000. Scrutiny of the recent £145m allocation to the Co-Ownership housing association indicated that it was a response to a huge rise in requests after the first Covid lockdown.

More people became interested in co-ownership after lenders -- fearful of the economic impacts of the pandemic -- stopped offering low-deposit mortgage products. The £145m -- which is Financial Transactions Capital funding -- includes £10m announced for Co-Ownership back in June 2020, and is expected to be met by £97m raised through private finance.

New social housing white paper

In England the government issued its long-awaited Social Housing White Paper, "The Charter for Social Housing Residents" -- the last of the charter's 7 points being "to be supported to take your first step to ownership". People working in the field said that it would speed up the complaints process for tenants and give them a stronger voice. Meanwhile England's Local Government Association issued new research in favour of building 100,000 new social homes for rent each year as an economic stimulus response to the housing crisis. NI's Communities Minister had already set out her plans for changes to social housing here (see 29 Oct-4 Nov briefing).

New Home Office policy to remove rough sleepers

A coalition of local law centres that help homeless people have warned the Home Office about the consequences of its plans to deport people for rough sleeping from 1 December. They said the measures could be deployed unlawfully against people left homeless by the pandemic as well as vulnerable people fleeing trafficking and domestic and other violence; and that they could even increase rough sleeping by deterring at risk people from seeking help. London mayor Sadiq Khan is among those who have previously called for the Home Office plan to be scrapped, referring to it as a 'dangerous precedent'.

Home Office reduces efforts to identify human trafficking

A High Court ruling found that the Home Office is violating its own rules on asylum screening. Its regulations require that new arrivals be asked about their journey to the UK in order to identify those who may have been victims of human trafficking. However, people crossing the Channel in small boats in recent weeks have been quickly sent back after having been asked a narrower set of questions.

Limitations of the existing family reunion policy for refugees in the UK. Upon receiving asylum, refugees have the right to be reunified with their immediate family through a family reunion visa. Charities have recommended changes to make the process more accessible. Currently, family members are required to present to a UK embassy or Visa Application Centre multiple times; for many living in remote and/or conflicted areas, this is problematic and even dangerous. Covid-19 has added additional barriers in the form of travel restrictions and heightened risk of exposure to the virus.

Concerns about the Home Office's treatment of children and their families emerged from a number of quarters, with sources noting a hardening of attitudes in the Home Office’s approach to families and children in favour of 'exclusionary measures'. Other sources accused the Home Office of ignoring obligations towards victims of torture and human trafficking in favour of "relentless deportation charter flights".

High Court stops Home Office evictions

Charities repeated the calls of local councils for the Home Office to cease its 'reckless' policy of evicting refused asylum seekers in the midst of lockdown. On 2 November the High Court ruled that due to public health concerns, the Home Office must halt evictions of rejected asylum seekers from asylum accommodation as an interim measure pending further court review; however reports indicate that eviction notices continue to be issued. (The Home Office announcement in September that it was resuming evictions -- which had been suspended with lockdown in March -- was taken without the input of local councils responsible for dealing with homelessness and protecting public health.)

Home Office treatment of people crossing the Channel under scrutiny

Four Independent Monitoring Boards -- which also scrutinise conditions in prisons and immigration detention facilities -- have found that the Home Office subjects some people arriving over the Channel in small boats to overcrowding without social distancing and neglects urgent medical needs. In other reports, the Home Office's immigration enforcement unit has been using drone footage of small boats to support charges of 'assisting illegal immigration' against the migrants steering them. Eight migrants who admitted steering boats have been jailed since August, with sentences ranging from 16 months to over two-and-a-half years. After serving their prison terms, they will be eligible for deportation. Critics say the charges should be used as intended -- against people smugglers working for a profit.

Also in the news…

Commentary on the Home Office's derisory 3p increase -- to £5.66 a day -- in asylum seekers' weekly food and living allowance while still banning them from work, especially as compared to the much-needed £20 per week increase to Universal Credit to help people meet the additional costs of the pandemic.

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