28th July 2020


In March 2020 Refugee Women Connect submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee relating to their inquiry into Home Office preparedness for COVID-19. The Committee’s inquiry sought to explore how prepared the Home Office was for COVID-19 as well as their response.

Today, the Committee published their fourth report as part of their inquiry titled ‘Home Office preparedness for COVID-19 (Coronavirus): institutional accommodation’ which includes testimony from our Advocacy Group. We welcome the recommendations made by the Committee and look forward to witnessing how these are taken on board and implemented by the Home Office.

Some particularly relevant recommendations made in relation to asylum-seeking and refugee women are the following;

  • Vulnerable people such as pregnant women, victims of abuse and people with PTSD should never be placed in accommodation in which they have to share a room with an unrelated adult, nor should they be required to use shared bathroom/toilet facilities which may have a detrimental impact on their mental and physical health.
  • The risks posed to vulnerable individuals by Covid-19 make more urgent the necessity of a complete end to room sharing by unrelated adults. While the first peak of infection has passed in some parts of the UK, there continues to be a real and substantial threat of further outbreaks. Providers must move people out of shared rooms now in advance of a possible second major national outbreak (Paragraph 47).
  • Accommodation providers must urgently put in place measures to enable greater social distancing and effective hygiene practices. We are appalled at reports that service users have not been universally provided either with laundry facilities, a generous supply of cleaning products, soap and sanitiser, or with financial support to enable them to access these essentials. It is difficult to conceive of any provision which is more fundamental to public health during the pandemic. The Home Office must immediately take steps to ensure these essentials are provided to all service users, whether in initial, contingency or dispersed accommodation. It must write to us confirming the steps taken, and how it will monitor the ongoing provision of these supplies, within 4 weeks of receiving this report. (Paragraph 50).
  • All Home Office contracted housing providers must ensure that any vulnerable adults are accommodated appropriately. Where the Home Office has explicitly authorised an individual to have a single room, this must be implemented without question or delay. To ensure that this is enforced in practice, the Home Office must write to us within 4 weeks of receiving this report outlining how it will require providers to account for their response to such individual cases both during the pandemic and for the longterm. (Paragraph 54).
  • We are appalled that the Home Office response to the communication support requirements of service users who are not accommodated in hotels or large IA facilities was simply to gather information about where free Wi-Fi might be provided locally—thus encouraging vulnerable people to go to public places—especially at a time when many such places might be closed or restricting public access. If there is a second major national outbreak and lockdown, the Home Office must not repeat this advice. (Paragraph 59).
  • Users of asylum accommodation are often very vulnerable people, including torture survivors, individuals suffering PTSD, pregnant women and mothers with small children. Smart phones, access to the internet and television can be a lifeline to a range of external information and support services. Prior to the lockdown many asylum seekers will have relied on local libraries and voluntary support groups, which are now impossible to access physically, to obtain such support. Without access to phones, internet and television, asylum seekers may be unable to access essential Covid-19 updates and crucial support networks in the UK and abroad. Asylum seekers’ ability to attend video consultations with their GP and other healthcare professionals, including secondary mental health care, may also be impeded by this lack of communication provision. (Paragraph 60).
  • While asylum support payments were provisionally increased in June 2020 from £37.75 to £39.60 per week, people with ongoing asylum claims may still struggle to meet their essential needs on this weekly amount, particularly during the pandemic. It is imperative that all asylum seekers have access to essential support services and Covid-19 information through television, phones and the internet at this time. The Government must urgently assess, and work with its contract holders to secure, asylum seekers’ access to these facilities; we also urge the Home Office and its providers to ensure all asylum seekers receive £10 a week to top up their phone credit. (Paragraph 62).
  • While we welcome the communication of Covid-19 guidance by providers to their service users, we urge all providers to check regularly with their service users, and with wider stakeholders, to ensure that they are receiving up to date and timely Covid-19 guidance. This is essential given the Government’s gradual easing of the lockdown restrictions and its fast-changing key messages. (Paragraph 83).
  • The Government said that it would review its policy of temporarily pausing all evictions from asylum accommodation and continuing the provision of asylum support before the end of June. In a Parliamentary debate on 17 June, a number of MPs expressed concern about the Home Office’s intention to end the temporary additional support for asylum seekers and to recommence moving on those who have been granted refugee status and those who have been refused asylum. At the time of writing in July, we understand that the temporary support remains in place. This is welcome. (Paragraph 144).
  • The Home Office should conduct a full review of its management of Covid-19 impacts on asylum accommodation and immigration detention in conjunction with its providers and other government departments. It should evaluate the impact of the temporary measures put in place and incorporate this learning into the development of future process and policy interventions before the end of 2020. This will be an important safeguard in the event of further outbreaks. (Paragraph 208)


You can access the full range of reports published by the Committee on Home Office preparedness for COVID-19 here.