Council support: refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children

This page is a one-stop resource for councillors and council officers to answer any questions you might have about supporting refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. We will continue to update these resources as more information comes through.


Local authorities should contact their Regional Strategic Migration Partnership (RSMPs) for more advice or if they are interested in participating in any of the programmes detailed on this page. Contacts below:

  Region Officer lead Email
  East of England Gosia Strona Malgorzata.Strona@eelga.gov.uk
  East Midlands Sarah Short Sarah.Short@emcouncils.gov.uk
  London - mayor@london.gov.uk
  North East Janine Hartley Janine_Hartley@middlesbrough.gov.uk
  North West Katy Wood K.wood@manchester.gov.uk
  South East Roy Millard RoyMillard@secouncils.gov.uk
  South West Sarah Short Sarah.Short@swcouncils.gov.uk
  Wales Anne Hubbard anne.hubbard@wlga.gov.uk
  West Midlands Dally Panesar Dalvinder.Panesar@birmingham.gov.uk
  Yorkshire & Humberside - admin@migrationyorkshire.org.uk

These programmes will run alongside existing programmes for resettling other refugees and the dispersal of asylum seeking adults and families.

We are aware of the tremendous local, regional and national leadership shown in building capacity for this group of children. We continue to push for full recovery of costs and for better, transparent and real time information. If you have any experiences or issues you would like to share, please email info@local.gov.uk or share these with your RSMP.

A new safeguarding strategy announced in November 2017 sets out the additional actions the Government will take to safeguard and promote the welfare of unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children that recognises the increasing numbers and specific needs of these children.

The National Transfer Scheme (NTS)

Local authorities have been asked and will continue to be asked to confirm the total number of unaccompanied children that they can support to their Regional Strategic Migration Partnership (RSMPs - see Q1). The National Transfer Scheme (NTS) aims to be voluntary and locally led, though Government would like to see all councils join the scheme. More information on the funding available can be found in Q2c.

The NTS is built on each region taking a proportion of unaccompanied children in order to achieve a more equal distribution across the UK. Thus, if an unaccompanied child or young person arrives in a council with low numbers of unaccompanied children, the expectation is that the child or young person will stay in the care of that area. If they arrive in a council with high numbers, the child will be transferred. The children will transfer within the region - unless the region has high numbers and then the expectation is that the child will transfer to a council in another region.

No region is expected to have in excess of 0.07% in relation to their current total child population but each region is expected to increase their numbers to this threshold where appropriate. The 0.07 ratio is based on mid-2014 population estimates from the ONS and current data on numbers of asylum seeking children in councils based on financial claims submitted by local authorities, and will be reviewed annually. The ratio does not include children leaving care or out of area placements. More background information is given in government FAQs. It is hoped that the transfer scheme will be used to enable out of area placements to be transferred to the host authorities where this is mutually agreed.

A national team will allocate children to regions and the regional coordination function will to allocate the children a council. More information is given in a flowchart.

Councils' responsibilities

The Immigration Act gives local authorities the power to transfer case responsibility for children to other councils around the country. Government has developed a protocol to underpin this process. Under this, the 'entry' authority will provide immediate support to the child. After the child has been accommodated by the entry authority for 24 hours they become a looked after child. The 'receiving' local authority will become legally responsible for the child from the point that they confirm they transfer acceptance from the entry local authority. Authorities receiving transferred children then will have to meet statutory duties around assessment and placements. If the age of the child is disputed but accepted to be under 18 an age assessment will be completed by the receiving authority if the child is transferred, and by the entry authority if not.

The government has provided an outlined of the sort of accommodation that can be used. Councils considering what sort of services to develop or expand will wish to note that currently the vast majority of children who arrive in the UK and make a claim for asylum are male (around 90%) and are aged 16 or 17 (over 61%). Half of this age group currently are placed in semi-independent living arrangements and half are fostered. Nearly all under 16 year olds are fostered. Q2d includes more information on support and accommodation options based on the experience from Kent. ADCS is also placing information to support councils on their website.

Authorities – both entry and receiving - have a duty to notify if they think the child has been or could be a victim of modern slavery.

Government has issued statutory guidance on Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery. More information on existing resources can be found under Q2e.

The Immigration Act 2016 introduced new provisions on support for care leavers who have been refused leave to remain which are still to be enacted.

Background

Government wrote to councils on 13 May 2016 with information on the future resettlement scheme for unaccompanied children. The National Transfer Scheme will include unaccompanied children who claim asylum after their arrival in the UK (UASC); those deemed at risk from countries around Syria (see Q9); and children from European countries (see Q3). The transfers as part of the scheme began on 1 July 2016.

The Immigration Act 2016 places a duty on councils to provide information about available services and an obligation to set out in writing reasons for not accepting a transfer. It also includes a power for mandatory transfers, both across England and in individual councils, though government have indicated they wish to use these powers as a last resort.

The Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill MP, attended the National Children's and Adults Social Care Conference on 3 November 2016 and indicated that there were no plans currently to make participation in the transfer scheme compulsory given confidence that sufficient numbers of authorities would come forward to offer placements.

Unaccompanied children enter the care of a council as a looked after child and have the same rights to help and support as a child who enters the care system for any other reason. Under previous regulations, children were the responsibility of the council where they first presented. As numbers increased, this has caused capacity issues for those areas which are ports of entry to the UK. The transfer scheme is designed to achieve a more equitable distribution to address these.

Information on current numbers of children claiming asylum can be found here. We are working with government on providing better and more real time data.

A UASC is

  • Under 18 when their asylum claim is submitted (or who, in the absence of documentary evidence, is assessed to be under that age)
  • Is applying for asylum in their own rights
  • and has no relative or guardian in the United Kingdom and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has the responsibility to do so.

Any child or young person claiming asylum undergo a welfare interviews by the Home Office to collect biometrics and bio data and to establish whether they have immediate health or protection needs. Children are referred to a local authority as soon as possible post arrival or post claiming asylum.

The Government has confirmed that it has transferred more than 900 unaccompanied children to the UK this year under both the terms of section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, commonly known as the 'Dubs Amendment' and the family reunification provisions of the Dublin Regulation. More information on these are below.

The Dubs Amendment

On 4 May 2016 the Government announced that it will be resettling unaccompanied children from France, Greece and Italy to the UK. This commitment is set out in Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, commonly known as the 'Dubs amendment'.

The Government announced that it will resettle 350 children under the Amendment, with 200 children already arrived. It was subsequently announced on 26 April 2017 that this would be increased to 480 because of an 'administrative error'.

It was confirmed on 29 June that this is not a final 'capped' figure. Local authorities have and will be continued to be asked to confirm the total number of unaccompanied children that could be placed in their area via the National Transfer Scheme with their RSMP (see Q1 for contact details). The Immigration Act required that Government to consult local authorities before arriving at a total number for the scheme.

The Government is continuing to work closely with Governments and NGOs in Greece and Italy to identify suitable cases for referral if the child's best interests are being met in any transfer to the UK. More information on children resettled from the Calais camp is below.

The Dublin Regulation

The Dublin Regulation is an EU law that sets out member states' responsibilities around asylum seeker applications. The rules allow children to apply for asylum in one country and transfer their asylum claim to the UK to join their family in another. Children have been transferred to the UK to be reunited with family members on an ongoing basis.

Home Office Caseworker Guidance on the Dublin III Regulation was published on November 2017, which includes further information on its operation within the UK government and across European governments.

Calais Camp transfers

The Government has confirmed that since 10 October more than 750 children from the Calais camp have come to the UK. This was almost half of the unaccompanied children who were in the camp at the time of the clearance. This included approximately 200 children under the 'Dubs Amendment' who were placed via the National Transfer Scheme. The rest were reunited with family under the Dublin Treaty following assessments from local authorities. Government clarified the eligibility for transfer for children who lived in the migrant camp in Calais.

The clearance of the Calais camp has led to local authorities being involved in the development of a more rapid process than previously planned for in the development of the NTS. The Department of Education wrote to all Directors of Children's Services to clarify the status of the children under the Children Act at various points in the process, and the role local authorities will be expected to play in ensuring that arrangements are safe and sustainable. UK Social Workers assessed the children from the Calais camps prior to arrival. Further FAQ are on the ADCS website.

Changes to funding

Local authorities will receive enhanced rates for UASC for new arrivals after 1 July 2016: £114 a day for under 16 year olds, £91 a day for 16-17 year olds and £200 a week for former unaccompanied children leaving care.

We and other national partners including ADCS are raising ongoing funding issues. Although we are continuing to press for full funding, we have seen some important concessions from Government in response to sustained and strong lobbying:

  • it has been confirmed in Parliament that there is no intention to reduce the current daily rate for unaccompanied children;
  • there will be a strategy and review of funding in the spring;
  • local authorities may also be able to use the Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) to support initiatives that may benefit these children such as foster care recruitment campaigns or training for social workers (see below for more information)
  • the grant instructions have now been amended so that Local Authorities can claim funding to support children as unaccompanied asylum seeking children and those leaving care if new family arrangements for those children brought under the Dublin treaty arrangements break down;
  • the requirement to bear the costs of the first 25 care leavers has changed so that local authorities can claim funding for all care leavers who entered the UK or were transferred via the NTS after July 2016;
  • the rules have also changed so that can claim funding for all care leavers who were supported as unaccompanied children, removing the requirement to bear the costs of the first 25;
  • changes are being implemented under the Immigration Act which allow UASC care leavers to apply for student loans, reducing the costs to local authorities if those young people go on to further education.

The rates were set on the basis of analysis by the Home Office of financial information from local authorities of the costs of caring for unaccompanied children.

The Controlling Migration Fund

The Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) is £100 million DCLG funding available for English local authorities over the remainder of Parliament to help ease pressures on local services linked to recent migration. An initial allocation of £15 million was awarded earlier this year with a further £18 million announced in November 2017.

Spend on initiatives than improve or expand support for unaccompanied children could be bid for against £25 million of funding available in 2016/17, with a bid deadline of 28 April 2017.

Government announced on 29 March 2017 that it will consider these bids together and will provide a response on how the fund will be used to support the development of capacity at a range of levels; locally, regionally and nationally.

A £3 million Child Trafficking Protection Fund also has been announced which aims to enable the delivery of new and innovative projects or initiatives to provide positive outcomes for potentially trafficked children.

Many local authorities had volunteered to support Kent via the National Transfer scheme given the significant impact on their services of large number of arrivals. As of 13th June 2016, Kent had 861 UASC in their care. Over 95% of the Kent cohort were boys and the majority of these young people were 16 and 17 year olds. Most were either are Eritrean or Afghanistani, but there were also increasing numbers of children who are Sudanese, Egyptian, Syrian, Iranian or Iraqi.

Accommodation options
Local authorities should assess the needs of unaccompanied children and young people in line with their usual procedures, and select the most appropriate placement to meet their needs. The government has provided an outline of the sort of accommodation that can be used.

Kent have provided some details of the support that they currently provide to unaccompanied minors in their care, which is outlined below for information.

Their current cohort of unaccompanied minors are largely supported in four placement types:

  • Foster care
  • Supported Lodgings
  • Supported Accommodation
  • Shared accommodation in the community

Foster care
This is generally used where the need is identified for a highly enhanced level of care, or the age of the young person is confirmed to be under the age of 16 years.

Kent placed their female unaccompanied minors (< 5%) and all male unaccompanied minors (c25%) under the age of 16 years into foster care. Kent do not generally use specialist foster carers, but find that some carers prefer working with this group of children and young people and develop particular expertise.

Supported Lodgings
This is used where a need is identified for enhanced support and a family based placement is considered appropriate.

Supported Accommodation
This is used where a need is identified for enhanced support but communal living with other young people is considered more appropriate than a family based placement. Support is provided alongside accommodation for between 12-18 hours a week, with in some cases permanent adult presence not directly related to the support provision.

Kent used this type of accommodation for < 10% of its cohort and currently spot purchases it from a variety of providers but is exploring the procurement of this type of accommodation on a commissioned basis.

Shared Accommodation
This is used where the assessment of need is that young people are able to manage their own day to day care with a low level of support from workers visiting the properties on a regular basis. Young people live independently, managing their own day to day care. Support is provided on a needs led basis by a combination of SW, SWA and support workers.

Kent used this for >70% of it UASC, generally provided via contracts, whereby the County Council is the formal tenant.

Do contact your RSMPs for any advice or queries before joining the schemes. You may wish to still involve your RSMPs in the detail of any direct negotiation with government around pledge levels and resettling arrivals given their expertise. RSMPs will also be able to work with you on using the offers from other partners made locally and regionally, such as Housing Associations, businesses, faith, community and voluntary sector groups. The central government team also may contact individual local authorities directly around participation in the schemes and you may still wish to liaise with RSMPs to discuss pledge levels and local delivery.

Things to consider when setting up or reviewing your resettlement programme are included in our publications Syrian refugee resettlement - a guide for local authorities and Resettling refugees: support after the first year - a guide for local authorities. More information including good practice examples are included in the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme Knowledge Hub group.

The government announced that the 20,000 local authority pledges required to meet the Government's commitment to resettle Syrian refugees have been secured. However, government has indicated that a local authority that has not yet pledged any places but wants to get involved can still indicated their wish to participate. This allows government to ensure new arrivals can be settled in the places that can best meet the needs of families and because the VPR is not the only resettlement scheme with which the support and assistance of local authorities is needed.

The scheme will continue to run alongside other resettlement schemes and other asylum procedures. Central and local government also have been working together to operate resettlement schemes for many years.

It was announced on 7 September 2015 that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of the Parliament. On 3 July 2017 Government announced that it was expanding the remit of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to include the most vulnerable refugees in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region whatever their nationality. The Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme will no longer focus just on those with Syrian nationality with immediate effect but will include those who have fled the Syrian conflict and cannot safely return to their country of origin. The commitment to resettle the 23,000 refugees via the previous schemes will remain, as will the current tariff. The Government has confirmed that it does not expect the changes to the scheme to significantly impact on its delivery at a local level, but has committed to working with the LGA and Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships to support participating councils should they need it.

Quarterly Immigration Statistics outline the numbers of arrivals under the scheme. Up to the end of March 2017, 7,307 Syrian nationals had been resettled across the UK under the Syrian VPRS in 235 authorities.

Councils will receive a contribution to their costs for five years. The Chancellor announced that over £460 million of the overseas aid budget will be used by 2019-20 across the statutory sector to assist with first year costs. Government will provide around a further £130 million by 2019-20 just to local authorities to contribute to the costs of supporting refugees up to their fifth year, including an 'extreme cases' fund that will assist with high cost cases. Other statutory services will receive funding via the normal routes after year one.

The Home Office also announced in September 2016 a £10m funding package to increase the existing English language tuition for those arriving under the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). The additional funding for English language training will mean all adults arriving through the scheme will receive an extra 12 hours a week of tuition for up to six months. Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships will also be funded support this aspect of the programme.

Refugees will be taken from the camps in the countries neighbouring Syria. The UK has been involved in an existing scheme to resettle Syrian refugees for a couple of years. UNHCR will continue to identify and refer the most vulnerable refugees and those that cannot seek the protection of their home country.

The UK sets the criteria. It currently prioritises those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin: women, children and young people at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence, refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs; refugees with medical needs or disabilities; persons at risk due to their sexual orientation or gender identity; and refugees with family links in resettlement countries.

On 22 March 2017, it was announced that those admitted under the VPRS and the VCRS programmes will be granted refugee status and five years' limited leave. Those resettled before this date will be able to request to change to refugee status. More information on how individuals can do this will be published in due course. Refugees are entitled access to public funds, access to the labour market and the possibility of a family reunion.

The UNHCR conduct a series of checks including a robust identification process prior to referring a refugee to the UK scheme. Referrals are then further screened and considered by the Home Office for suitability for entry to the UK. The Home Office check they meet eligibility criteria and to carry out medical and security checks. The Home Office retain the right to reject on security, war crimes or other grounds. By the time a UNHCR referred refugee arrives in the UK they have been through a thorough two-stage vetting process to ensure government knows who is entering the country. This includes the taking of biometrics, documentary evidence and interviews. Security is also regarded as a continual process that does not stop as soon as a refugee arrives in the UK.

If a refugee makes plans to move to another part of the UK post their arrival, local authorities are asked to notify the local authority that the refugee is planning to move to. Refugees are told this as part of their pre arrival information as well.

The key difference between this scheme announced on 21 April 2016 and the (then) SVPR was that this scheme was open to other nationalities in the region in need of protection. The 3,000 people resettled in the UK from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is to include all family members and not just children.

Government's intention was to resettle several hundred families in its first year. Local authorities have been asked to confirm with their Regional Strategic Migration Partnership whether they would be able to settle these families, and the offers of accommodation they would be able to make. Local authorities can see this group as part of its existing pledges or be seen as a new commitment that will need separate pledges.

Cases will be resettled from the existing host countries for the Syrian scheme: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Families receive the same funding levels as the current Syrian scheme, receive the same Immigration status; and will be transferred and then be supported via the same process as the Syrian families.

The majority of children arrive with their parents. A small number arrive with non-parental care givers. It is expected that only very small number would be unaccompanied children placed in local authorities via the National Transfer Scheme, with the same rates of funding provided – see question 2. Local authorities will consider the specific support needs that unaccompanied children have, and additionally may have consider the specific needs of children who did not necessarily originally aim to live in the UK and the impacts of the abuse and exploitation listed below.

This programme included refugee 'children at risk' as defined by UNHCR and if UNHCR deems the resettlement is in the child's best interest. Those deemed to be 'at risk' by UNHCR are: those with specific medical needs or disabilities; survivors of or those at risk of violence, abuse or exploitation including sexual and gender based violence; children at risk of harmful traditional practices such as FGM or forced marriage; children without legal documentation, children in detention, children at risk of losing their refugee status, and children at risk of not attending school, children associated with armed forces or groups, facing the risk of child labour or already work, and child carers.

You can direct residents to the government website which outlines what individuals can do to help: www.gov.uk/helprefugees.

Significant or substantive offers of assistance can be referred to RSMPs. This will ensure that the support provided is tailored to vulnerable people's needs in the most appropriate way.

If residents have a whole property that could be used to house refugees you might want to collate the details of these properties so you can assess whether you can make use of their offer. For the many other offers (such as local people wanting to make a donation or offer assistance in kind) you may want to direct people to the local and national charities which are offering support to refugees already in the UK.

Facts and Figures

Frequently updated information on patterns of migration and asylum in the UK at local, regional and local levels can be found in official statistics available here and here.

The United Nations Refugee Agency operates the current Syrian resettlement scheme and they have a resource covering asylum seekers and refugees in the UK: The Facts: Asylum in the UK. Further 'myth busting' information can be found on Refugee Week's facts about refugees.

Community cohesion

Councils have great expertise in bringing communities together and existing resources to ensure people are welcome in local areas are available here.

How is accommodation and support for asylum seekers for being changed?

The Home Office is designing, developing and procuring the future model for asylum accommodation and support, replacing the existing COMPASS arrangements. The scope covers the end-to-end 'asylum support business', including the provision of accommodation and welfare services, back office processing, compliance and inspections. The Home Office has launched a procurement for the future model for asylum accommodation and support. It will be broadly similar to the current arrangements with a single contractor providing initial accommodation, dispersed accommodation, transport and welfare services in seven regional contracts, with a separate contract for advice to be tendered at a later date. The Home Office aim to have the contracts fully operational by October 2019, with the duration of the new contracts to be confirmed. More information is available here. The government remains keen to encourage more councils to volunteer to become dispersal areas.

To date, the ‘Asylum Accommodation Support Transformation’ project team has sought to engaged with local authorities, statutory partners, third sector partners, existing suppliers and business associations. The need for effective engagement going forward have been discussed at the LGA Asylum, Migration and Refugee Task Group, including a recent meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Brandon Lewis, on 26 October. The Home Office intend that the procurement run parallel with further engagement providing greater detail, including their commitments to a greater focus on safeguarding, quality, consistency and collaboration, and wish to encourage local authorities to engage with potential providers. Queries and views can be directed to your Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships or to AAST@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Funding available

£2.5 million of the Controlling Migration Fund will be allocated to around twenty local authorities over two years to bid  to provide officers to support asylum seekers given status settle into local communities and to encourage failed asylum seekers to return home, alongside a wider commitment to better information sharing.

The Asylum Process

Those who claim asylum after they arrive in the UK go through a different process and receive a different immigration status than those settled under resettlement schemes. Those thought to have legitimate claims for asylum after an initial screening but are unable to support themselves are placed into accommodation and given an allowance to live on while their claims are considered. This is funded by the government.

Asylum seekers are dispersed across the UK. Becoming a dispersal area is voluntary and there are agreed 'cluster limits' in terms of the number of asylum seekers per population that can be placed in any area. More information on where asylum seekers and other refugees live in the UK can be found in government's migration statistics.

The majority of decisions are made in favour of granting asylum. Simple claims are aimed to be processed within six months, but there are some complex cases that have lasted for much longer. Once asylum seekers are given status, they are entitled to work and receive benefits and if appropriate, apply for housing. More information is available here: Asylum support page.

The only asylum seekers directly supported by local authorities are unaccompanied asylum seeking children – see question 2.

No recourse to public funds

Failed asylum seekers and others without status to stay in the UK may also be supported if they have children or social care needs, though this support is not funded by central government. Local authorities' responsibilities for failed asylum seekers is a very complex area of law. More information on those without recourse to public funds can be found here, including a web tool to help work out support options and practice guidance.

Other routes

More information about other routes to the UK, including family visas, can be found here.

The member led LGA Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group is made up of regional member and RSMP representation covering all of the English regions, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland and focuses upon the issues around the asylum, refugee and migration agenda from a local government perspective. The LGA, via the Task Group, has been involved in discussions with Government and with regions for a long period of time on how to work together to find sustainable solutions that minimise the pressures on local authorities, local communities and vulnerable individuals.

As well as working on how the scheme will be funded, we are working with government and partners to clarify what resettlement schemes will look like in practice. The LGA view is that aligned regionally coordinated programmes can meet the needs of vulnerable children and families, more quickly whilst minimising the impact on local communities; and utilising and funding central, regional and local governments' strategic and operational expertise and innovative practice.