A new law called The Illegal Migration Act 2023 has recently come into force. The Act has brought about significant changes to the UK asylum and immigration system for people who arrive in the UK on or after 20 July 2023. We are in the process of updating the Toolkit to reflect these developments. For now, please be aware that some of the information in the Toolkit may be out-of-date for people who arrived in the UK after that date. To stay up to date with any changes to the Toolkit, please sign up to our newsletter here.

Last updated: 8 April 2024

This page is about destitution which affects migrants in the UK.

Destitution is the experience of being unable to afford basic necessities (like food and shelter). In the UK, migrant communities are disproportionately at risk of and affected by destitution. This page outlines how destitution affects different migrant communities, and links to key support organisations and resources.

This page is not about destitution which is applied as a legal test in parts of the immigration rules, for instance in the asylum support ‘destitution test’ which you can read about here, or for a fee waiver application. This page does not consider the different ways in which to prove destitution for these types of applications.

On this page, you will find the following information:

In the asylum system:

In the National Referral Mechanism (NRM):

Other support: 

After the asylum/immigration system, including:

Further support

What is destitution?

Destitution means the inability to afford basic essentials such as food, shelter, heating, and sanitation.

Destitution has reached unprecedented levels in the UK. According to the charity Crisis, the homelessness system in England is at breaking point: the cost-of-living crisis, rising rents, and widespread destitution are causing homelessness levels to rise, and making it harder for councils to provide people with effective support. The ‘cost of living crisis’ refers to a period of time during which the cost of everyday essential items and tasks like food and bills increases more quickly than average household income. The UK has been experiencing a cost of living crisis since late 2021, and most of the population has been affected in some way. However, the impact of the crisis is felt most intensely by individuals and families who were already struggling on low or no income.

As confirmed by this report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, migrant communities have a higher risk of destitution. The report reveals the following:

  • Migrant destitution is growing rapidly, especially since 2019. It is estimated that 1.1 million migrants, including over 330,000 children now live in destitution in the UK.
  • The risk of being destitute is estimated to be 35% higher among migrant families in the UK than the national average. This is partly due to a lack of access to the mainstream welfare safety net (this means benefits, and other public services).
  • For those in the most severely affected group – those with extremely low or no income – migrants made up the largest group, with 59% of households having less than £60 per week to live on after housing costs and 38% having no income at all.

There has been a rise in the rates of homelessness amongst migrants due to the government’s increasingly hostile immigration policies, such as evictions from asylum hotel accommodation. As a result, at the end of 2023, the number of homeless refugees in Glasgow alone had doubled, and tens of thousands of refugees faced homelessness in the UK, as confirmed by the British Red Cross.

The homelessness charity Crisis releases a yearly report called the Homelessness Monitor. The 2023 report can be accessed here. It recognises:

“… the fundamental tension between current immigration and homelessness policy in a context where over half of all people sleeping rough in London are non-UK nationals, many of whom will have No Recourse to Public Funds or other restricted eligibility for statutory support”.

Additionally, the report confirms the homelessness impacts of the Ukrainian and Afghan refugee crises, and wider asylum dispersal pressures which increase the pressure on local authorities to provide temporary accommodation, with no clear solutions for longer-term accommodation for these groups.

Destitution increases the likelihood of other risks, including: work exploitation and modern slavery, homelessness, and poor health. 

You can read more about Work Exploitation and Migrant Workers’ Rights in our Toolkit page here.

You can read more about Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in our Toolkit page here.

Undocumented migrants

An undocumented migrant is someone who does not have leave to remain in the UK or has overstayed or broken the terms of their leave. Because of this, they have a No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition by default. You can read more about NRPF in the section below.

The Institute of Housing Rights has a useful, accessible page for ‘People who are destitute’ which includes information on how to resolve your situation. It also has crucial information for people living as undocumented migrants in the UK. You can access this resource by clicking the button below.

Support from the local authority is available for migrants who are undocumented. See the sections on Section 17 support (from Section 17 of the Children Act 1989) and support under the Care Act below to learn more.

Poverty on asylum support

If you have claimed asylum, and do not have anywhere to live and/or money to support yourself, you may be able to get asylum support. This is provided by the Home Office and, depending on your circumstances, can include housing and/or basic living expenses.

Asylum support is provided by the Home Office while your asylum claim is being considered (this means while you are waiting for a decision), or after your claim for asylum has been refused. You can learn more about asylum support in our Toolkit page.

In reality, many people on asylum support are struggling with poverty and destitution. This is due to several reasons.

First, the Home Office has consistently failed to fulfil its duties to provide adequate (this means good enough) asylum support. Asylum support is under £50.00 per week or just £9.58 a week for people living in a hotel. This allowance is meant to cover everything, from food and household products to transport, to baby formula or school uniforms for families with children.

In 2023, the High Court found that the Home Office failed to meet its minimum obligations in providing support to people who have come to the UK seeking asylum. You can read more about the court case in our blog here.

Second, people on asylum support are prevented from working in the first year of waiting for an asylum decision, and then they are only given very limited permission to work. People in the asylum system who are granted permission to work are only able to work specific jobs, and they are paid at a lesser rate than a person settled in the UK would be paid. In this way, people are made to rely on the extremely low levels of so-called asylum support. You can read more about permission to work in our Toolkit page.

The organisation Asylum Matters published a report called Surviving in Poverty which reveals the challenges that people who receive asylum support experience. The key findings of the report reveal that, of the people on asylum support who were interviewed:

  • 91% don’t always have enough money to buy food
  • 75% can’t always afford the medicines they need
  • 85% struggle to afford the cleaning products they need
  • 97% experience difficulties affording the clothes they need
  • 65% face challenges affording the toiletries they need
  • 95% can’t always afford to travel where they need to by public transport
  • 88% don’t always have the data and phone credit they need
  • 83% say asylum support payments aren’t enough to cover the rise in the cost of living.

Third, due to the Home Office backlog (delay) in making asylum decisions and the fact that the courts do not have capacity to hear the number of appeals, people are stuck in the asylum support system for months, if not years. As confirmed by the Refugee Council’s Lives on Hold report:

“…the asylum support system was created to provide temporary support to people for a limited period of time. It wasn’t envisaged that people would stay on support for months and years because the plan was to make swift decisions on asylum claims and either grant protection in the UK or remove people.”

Instead, people remain stuck in this cycle of destitution. This has a serious impact on their:

  • integration and interaction with wider society.
  • mental and physical health.
  • children’s development. For more on this, see the incredible work of the Magpie Project here.

If you are on asylum support and struggling to meet your basic needs, please see the list of key support organisations below.

Asylum Support discontinuations and homelessness

Thousands of people in Home Office hotel accommodation have been pushed into or are at risk of experiencing homelessness because of a change in how the Home Office has been applying its own policy since August 2023.

People who receive refugee status (because their asylum claim has been accepted by the Home Office) have been receiving ‘Notices to Quit’ their hotel asylum accommodation within very short periods of time – sometimes even as little as a matter of days. A Notice to Quit is a letter from the Home Office that states that the person has finished their time in the asylum accommodation and will need to find somewhere new to live within a certain period of time.

As a result of an increase in levels of homelessness, in December 2023 the Home Office stated that this very short notice period was only meant for the month of August, and that it would revert back to a 28-day notice period. This means that people who receive refugee status now have 28 days from when they receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card, not 28 days from when their asylum claim is accepted.

When you receive refugee status, this comes with many new changes, and these changes can be overwhelming. For example:

  • When someone is given a short window of time to move out of hotel accommodation (somewhere they may have lived for a long time), it means that they do not have the chance to make a homelessness application in time to the local authority. This means that they could face homelessness for days or even weeks before the local authority can place them in a new property. You can read more about making a homelessness application in the section below.
  • This is also a big issue because local authorities will not usually accept a homelessness application unless there is proof that the person has been evicted. So, refugees cannot take action earlier because they need to wait until they receive the Notice to Quit letter before they can make a homelessness application.
  • When someone is given a very short window of time until their asylum allowance is stopped, they can be left destitute and without any money because applications for Universal Credit (a type of benefit) take about 5 weeks to process. You can read more about Universal Credit in the section below.
  • Another issue is that while councils have an obligation to provide emergency accommodation to families with children, adults who do not have children may not be eligible for that support and are at risk of finding themselves homeless.

To learn more about what happens after you receive refugee status, you can read our Legal Update blog here.

ACTION SECTION

These are suggestions for potential steps you can take to resolve the issue of eviction from hotel accommodation.

  • Ask for an extension of asylum support. You can do this if you have received a grant of refugee status. You can do this by contacting Migrant Help.
  • Claim Universal Credit (benefits). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that people with refugee status can apply for Universal Credit using their Application Registration Card (ARC card) and their Home Office Decision Grant Letter as forms of identification if they have not yet received their Biometric Residence Card (BRP). The ARC card and decision letter must be presented together to be accepted as a valid form of identification. You can read more about how to claim for Universal Credit in the section below.
  • Appeal the Home Office’s decision to refuse asylum. If you have received a refusal of your asylum claim, you can appeal the decision (whether or not you have a lawyer). In order to appeal, a person needs a copy of their discontinuation letter. If you have not received a decision letter, you can request it from Migrant Help on CopySupportDecisions@migranthelpuk.org.

    To learn about how to appeal, read our detailed Toolkit page on Preparing for an Appeal here. People who appeal their asylum refusal are still considered to be ‘in the system’ and are typically entitled to section 95 support.

  • Appeal to the Asylum Support Tribunal. There may be grounds for an appeal on the revocation (this means the ending) of your asylum support. To find out more about asylum appeals, browse the resources on the Asylum Support Appeals Project’s website here. If you are a second-tier advice giver, you can contact their advice line on 020 3716 0283 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 2pm–4pm.
  • If you work with/support people who are experiencing this issue, please do keep track of this information and share it with your community, as well as what steps you are taking to address the issue and support those affected. Knowledge sharing is power. Now more than ever, our radical solidarity is essential.
  • The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) and Greater Manchester Law Centre published a very helpful guide about what to do if your asylum support is discontinued, and if you are facing homelessness. Read it here.
  • To learn more, follow the work of the Asylum Support Appeals Project, and read this blog by Free Movement.

Duty to house survivors of modern slavery

If you have received a positive conclusive grounds decision from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for recognition as a survivor of modern slavery or human trafficking, and have been granted temporary permission to stay, Chapter 25.22 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance says that:

“…A person who has been a victim of trafficking or modern slavery may have a priority need for accommodation if they are assessed as being vulnerable according to section 189(1)(c) of the 1996 [Housing] Act.

…In assessing whether they are vulnerable a housing authority should take into account the risk of the applicant being re-exploited and advice from specialist agencies providing services to the applicant, such as their assigned support provider under the NRM, or other organisations who are providing support including drug and alcohol services, local charities and the police.

Many victims of modern slavery suffer from poor mental health and often lack support structures in the area they are residing. If a victim of modern slavery is threatened with homelessness or is homeless this significantly increases their risk to being re-trafficked or exposed to further exploitation…”

So, if you have received a positive conclusive grounds decision and have been granted temporary permission to stay, you are eligible for homelessness assistance. It might be worth sharing evidence of this vulnerability (for example, letters of support from your support worker and/or first responder) to your local council in order to seek housing support. You can read more about applying for homelessness support in the section above.

No Recourse to Public Funds and destitution

No Recourse to Public Funds (also known as NRPF) is a type of condition placed on temporary visas to limit access to ‘public funds’, including certain benefits, homelessness assistance, and social housing. Approximately 1.4 million people are thought to be affected by the NRPF condition in the UK, and this includes people with undocumented status. It is extremely difficult to live with a NRPF condition attached to your visa or leave to remain in the UK. This policy has been found to be unlawful in court several times. You can read more about its unlawfulness here and here.

ACTION SECTION

The No Recourse to Public Funds Network is a national network safeguarding the welfare of destitute families, adults and care leavers who are unable to access benefits due to their immigration status. They have key resources about the rights and entitlements of people with NRPF conditions which you can access here. This includes information on support options for example, social services support for families/adults, and immigration options.

If you are struggling with a NRPF condition on your visa, see information from the Unity Project about how to apply to have the condition lifted here. Figures from June 2023 showed that 78% of ‘Change of Conditions’ applications were successful, so it is worth getting advice about making an application.

The Exhaust All Options report, published by the Law Centres Network in February 2023, outlines local authorities’ powers to accommodate people beyond the duties outlined in the Housing Act 1996. It outlines – in simple language – the duties of local authorities to house people in their area under 6 different laws: the NHS Act 2006, the Local Government Act 1972, the Children Act 1989, the Care Act 2014, the Mental Health Act 1983, the Localism Act 2011 (General Power of Competence). It might be useful to go through this document with a supporter, advisor, or friend to see if you fit into any of these categories for support.

Local Authority support

Section 17 and Care Act support is available both for people with visas with a NRPF condition, as well as for migrants who are undocumented. Read on to learn more.

Section 17 support

Section 17 support comes from section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Section 17 is available for children who are ‘in need’ and their families. You might be able to access support if your child’s health or development is significantly affected by your circumstances. For example, if you and your children are homeless or about to be homeless, or you do not have enough money to provide your family with essential things (like food, travel, clothes). Section 17 support is not determined by immigration status. 

Useful resources

Project 17 is an organisation in London that works to end destitution among migrant families with no recourse to public funds. They work with families experiencing exceptional poverty to improve their access to local authority support. 

Project 17 provides advice on housing and financial options for families with no recourse to public funds. 

For individuals: call 07963 509044 or email info@project17.org.uk to discuss your circumstances. 

For professionals: call 07701 330 016 or email info@project17.org.uk to discuss your client’s case. 

You can read more about Section 17 support by looking at the resources on the Project 17 website by clicking here. Alternatively, you can click through to their resources below: 

Support under the Care Act

If you have care needs resulting from a mental or physical health condition, you may be entitled to care and support from your Local Authority, even if you have no recourse to public funds. Sometimes this support may include the provision of accommodation and a limited amount of financial assistance, where these things are necessary to meet your care needs. People who are caring for adults with such needs may also be entitled to this kind of support. 

Your local authority should conduct what is called a Community Care Needs Assessment to decide what support you need.

Applying as homeless to local councils

The Chartered Institute of Housing Rights has a very helpful resource outlining what it means to apply as homeless to a local council, and when/how to do this. You can access the full guide here.

It says –

Local councils have a responsibility to make sure free housing advice and information is available to anyone in their area. This is to prevent homelessness or help homeless people find accommodation. But if, even after following the advice and using the information, you are still homeless or threatened with homelessness, you may be able to ask the council for more help, including temporary accommodation and help finding long-term accommodation.

But councils only have to offer all this help if:

  • you are in one of the categories of people who are eligible; and
  • you are legally homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days (i.e. you don’t have a home in the UK or abroad where you can reasonably live); and
  • you are in priority need (because in your household there is an eligible child, pregnant woman or vulnerable person); and
  • you are not intentionally homeless (for example, you didn’t pay your rent or you gave up a home where you could reasonably have lived); in Wales some councils may not apply this rule; and
    Either:
  • you have a ‘local connection’ with the area where you are making the application (such as work, you lived there before or you have family members living there), OR
  • you have no connection with any area.

So, to apply to a local council for support with homelessness, you must:

  • Be eligible (check here for different eligibility criteria, which depend on whether you are a British/EEA citizen or a non-EEA citizen)
  • Be legally homeless or know you will be homeless within 56 days
  • Be in ‘priority need’ (due to vulnerability)
  • Not be ‘intentionally’ homeless (this means on purpose, if you have alternative options)
  • Have a ‘local connection’ (this means a tie to the place, for example if it was your asylum dispersal location) OR no connection to any local council area in the UK. This is because local councils have a duty to house someone who has a connection to their constituency, or who is in their constituency and does not have a connection to anywhere else in the UK.

The concept of a ‘local connection’ is very important to bear in mind for people who have just obtained Refugee Status and may wish to relocate to a location away from their asylum dispersal accommodation. Refugees in the UK have a unique, permanent local connection to the place they are living in at the time they receive their grant of status from the Home Office.

For example, this means that if you receive Refugee Status while you are living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, you will have a local connection to Tower Hamlets council for the purpose of a homelessness application. If you were living in Leicester at the time when you received Refugee Status, you will have a local connection to Leicester City Council but if you move to London, you will not have a connection to any local councils in London. People outside of London coming into London are within the general homelessness cohort and will not be prioritised.

You can never lose an existing local connection, but you can always add to it. For example, if you used to live in London but then start a family and start working in Glasgow.

Claiming Universal Credit (benefits)

Universal credit (UC) is a cash social security benefit for people aged under 66, administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It helps you with living expenses (including rent) if you have a low income.

To qualify for universal credit you must:

  • make a valid claim;
  • sign a ‘claimant commitment’ and comply with any work-related requirements set out in it; and
  • be an eligible person.

ACTION SECTION

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has a national contract to help people to claim their first Universal Credit up to their first payment. There is a different number to call depending on which country you are in (England, Scotland, Wales) and there is translation available. You can learn more here.
  • You can read about the law on Universal Credit on the Chartered Institute for Housing’s website here. This resource sets out the rules about who is eligible for UC according to whether you are British or Irish, a national of an EEA member state, or from outside the EEA.
  • The Chartered Institute for Housing also has a guide to claiming housing benefit here.
  • You can read more about claiming Universal Credit on the government website here.
  • If you want to claim Universal Credit after a grant of refugee status, and are facing eviction from your asylum accommodation, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that people with refugee status can apply for Universal Credit using their Application Registration Card (ARC card) and their Home Office Decision Grant Letter as forms of identification if they have not yet received their Biometric Residence Card (BRP). The ARC card and decision letter must be presented together to be accepted as a valid form of identification. You can read more in this blog by Free Movement.

Key destitution support organisations

We have a Right to Remain Directory of groups whom we have had direct contact with across different regions of the UK. Many of them use the Toolkit in different ways, enabling all of us to understand and share the struggle of navigating the hostile asylum and immigration system. You can look through the directory to browse support organisations in your area.

We have also listed some organisations below that provide support for destitution and homelessness.

National support

  • Crisis – Crisis is a national homelessness charity that provides advice and support. You can access their help here. They have 9 centres across the UK in Birmingham, Brent, Coventry, Croydon, Edinburgh, London, Merseyside, Newcastle, Oxford, South Wales and South Yorkshire. Access one of their centres here.
  • Shelter – Shelter is a national homelessness charity that provides advice and support. You can access their website here and select whether you are in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland so you can be provided with accurate information and access to support. They provide advice on homelessness, benefits, repairs and housing conditions, evictions and more. You can find your closest Shelter services in:
  • Law Centres – A law centre is a charity that provides free legal advice. There are many across England and Northern Ireland. You can access the list of law centres here
  • No Recourse to Public Funds Network – A national network safeguarding the welfare of destitute families, adults and care leavers who are unable to access benefits due to their immigration status.

London

  • St Mungo’s – St Mungo’s is a homelessness charity helping people who are sleeping rough in London and the south of England. They have services/accommodation in every borough of London, as well as in Bath, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Brighton, Bristol, Leicester, Oxford and Reading. You can learn more here.
  • Glassdoor – Glassdoor is a homelessness charity which provides shelter, support (including daytime support) and advice to people in London. You can access their services here.
  • The Magpie Project – The Magpie Project provides support to pregnant women / mothers of small children who are at risk of homelessness or in temporary accommodation in Newham.
  • Sufra NW – Sufra is a charity that provides a foodbank, and community support and advice in Brent.
  • C4WS Homeless Project – C4WS provides shelter, advice, and community support to people experiencing homelessness and destitution. You can access their help here
  • CARIS Haringey – CARIS provides advice to families experiencing homelessness in Haringey.
  • Haringey Migrant Support Centre – offers free advice and casework support on immigration, housing, homelessness and destitution. You can access their services here.
  • Union Chapel – UC is a church and drop-in centre for people experiencing homelessness in Islington. You can access their resources here.

Manchester

  • Boaz Trust – Boaz Trust is a Manchester-based charity supporting people who have become homeless after claiming asylum. You can read about their resources here.
  • Coffee4Craig – Coffee4Craig is Manchester-based, and services include advice, support, hot meals, and respite from the streets. 
  • Mustard Tree – Mustard Tree is a charity that helps people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Manchester, and services include food, clothing, accommodation, training and support. Access their resources here.

North East

  • Crisis Newcastle – Crisis Skylight Newcastle supports people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.

Yorks/Humber

West Midlands

  • Refugee and Migrant Centre – RMC is Black Country and Birmingham-based, and services include drop-ins and advice on immigration, employment, education, welfare benefits, destitution and homelessness. 
  • SIFA Fireside – SIFA Fireside is a charity that provides prevention, intervention and recovery services for people sleeping rough in Birmingham.

East England

  • Suffolk Refugee Support – Suffolk Refugee Support provides advice and support on education, employment, access to immigration advice, housing, utilities, welfare benefits and more, by appointment and also by telephone advice.

South West

  • Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support – DCRS supports people seeking asylum and refugees to access legal representation, financial support and appropriate housing.
  • Harbour Housing Cornwall – A homelessness charity working across Cornwall. 
  • PATH Plymouth – Plymouth Access to Housing is a local homelessness charity in Plymouth offering housing support to refugees.

South East

Scotland

  • Safe in Scotland – Help with emergency and temporary accommodation in Glasgow.

Northern Ireland

  • Simon Community – NI’s leading homeless charity, offering specialist support on homelessness prevention, accommodation services, health, and support for young people.