What is signing-support?
Most people who have applied for leave to remain and have not had a positive decision have to regularly report at their local Home Office reporting centre or a police station. At every reporting visit, the person is at risk of detention, particularly if their application has been refused, which they may not know until they go and report.
Some people phone a friend when they are entering the reporting centre, with instructions for what to do and who to contact if they are detained. If the friend does not get a call within an hour or two to say they are safe, the friend can call their solicitor and campaign or support group.
In some areas, local support groups have set up systems to help with this. They will check-in with the group first, who keep a record of everyone’s contact details and emergency instructions of what to do if they do not come out.
This means that people who are signing at the Home Office will know that people are looking out for them. This can save valuable time: supporters can then start finding out exactly where that person is, what has happened, and what can be done to help straight away.
Signing-support is a really practical action that local groups can organise, to help reduce the psychological burden of reporting at the Home Office, as the person going to sign knows that there is a plan in place if things go wrong and they are detained.
Read about what you can do – as someone seeking the right to remain, or as a supporter – to prepare in case of detention.
Some starters on setting up a signing/detention support system
- Make sure you know when everyone the group is supporting goes to sign
- You need to know where people are signing, and where they will be detained (at first, and then longer-term) if they are picked up at signing
- Have basic information about the stage someone’s case is at, if you’re supporting them when they go and sign. Does the support group or a member of the group have a copy of their documents?
- Remember, you don’t need to know everything about someone’s case, and you should only ask for information if the person is comfortable sharing it.
- It may help to have a basic form that you use with information on such as name, date of birth, emergency contact details including lawyer if there is one, family, health problems etc.
- Home Office reference number may be important for contacting the lawyer/the Home Office
- On this form, you can indicate issues that need to be thought about if someone is detained – are there children who need emergency child-care? Is medication needed?
- It may be helpful to get a consent form signed so that you can speak to the person’s lawyer, if they have one.
- How does the group find out that somebody’s been detained?
- You might want to think about a buddy system (with back-up in case the buddy is away), a telephone or email tree.
There are groups being set up across the country doing signing support, but it depends on the resources of the group. For example, the Unity Centre in Glasgow have a little office near the Home Office. Other groups, for example in Leeds and Newport, have just set up an informal telephone check-in system.
Have an action plan
Agree in advance with individuals what they want to happen if they are detained.
- Ring their lawyer (if they have one)
- Try and find out about legal aid advice in the detention centre they are taken to
- If they can’t get legal advice, can your group help them apply for bail?
- Once you know which detention centre they are in, arrange visiting for family, friends, support group members. If it’s too far away, get in touch with the local visitors’ group
- Are there any family members, professionals involved in the case that need contacting?
- Have you talked about campaigning? Do they want you to mobilise the support group to take action – such as going to see the local MP, fundraising for legal fees or do they want to go public with their campaign? It’s important to have had these discussions before someone is detained.
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