‘It just rings and rings’: Home Office helpline for asylum seekers rated inadequate

At our recent QARN meeting, it was agreed that we would look more closely at the workings of this so-called charity, which is in effect the extended arm of the Home Office and does not seem to be meeting its charitable aims.

Updated 10 July 2023: Migrant Help: Court of Appeals Decision

We have been concerned since the announcement of the government’s decision to move forward with the offshore processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda last year. We firmly believed this decision is not in keeping with the care and compassion shown by the British people who have opened their homes to those in need of safety. Along with over 150 organisations, we called on the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to reconsider this policy that would have seen vulnerable people being sent to a country with a poor record on human rights.  

Today, the Court of Appeals has agreed. The Court has ruled it unlawful for people seeking asylum to be sent to Rwanda to have their claims processed. Stating that “there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that any persons sent to Rwanda will be removed to their home country when, in fact, they have a good claim for asylum”. 

This decision will result in important changes that will impact the displaced people that Migrant Help work hard to support and welcome into the UK. We hope that based on this judgement, going forward the Government will ensure policy-specific conversations are had with sector experts.  

Published: 29th June, 2023

Updated 15 March 2023: It is encouraging to see the following statement on Migrant Help’s website:

Statement on the Government’s announcement of the “Illegal Migration Bill”

Under new legislation proposed by the government this week, anyone who crosses the Channel or otherwise “enters the UK illegally” would automatically be made inadmissible for any claims of asylum or humanitarian protection. Rather, they would be put in a detention centre and slated for swift removal from the country. This would be a considerable change in the functioning of the UK asylum system.

However, the majority of people who arrive in the UK in this way have valid claims for asylum, and we strongly believe that everyone deserves a fair hearing and the welcome and protection that our country can and should provide. The Refugee Convention states that displaced people – most of whom will have undergone unimaginable trauma by the time they reach our shores – have the right to claim asylum. This is not dependent on the route that these desperate people have been forced to take to arrive in the UK. The most recent data published by the Home Office also show that the top five nationalities represented by those arriving across the Channel by small boat (Afghan, Iranian, Syrian, Eritrean and Sudanese) all have high asylum grant rates at over 80%.

Even if these claims were deemed inadmissible under this new proposed legislation, non-refoulement would still apply. This is a core and guiding principle in the Refugee Convention that prohibits States from returning individuals to a country where there is a real risk of being subjected to persecution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or any other human rights violation. These are exactly the kinds of conditions from which many of our clients have fled in search of safety. And as we have seen with the Rwanda plan which was unveiled last year, deportation can be a slow and difficult process – so far, no one has been sent to Rwanda under this scheme. We are concerned that this additional legislation would leave those who arrive across the Channel in a distressing and interminable limbo, unsure of where they are going and how long it might take to get there.

At Migrant Help we believe that everyone has the right to live a life free of fear, harm, violence and discrimination. We believe the Government should focus on creating safe options for claiming asylum, rather than proposing bills that create further hardship for those escaping wars and persecution.

A recent study has shown that the UK public has among the most positive attitudes to immigration and is one of the most accepting of new arrivals. We therefore urge Rishi Sunak to withdraw this bill and put forward a humane proposal that is more in tune with the expectations of the general public and the proud history of our country in supporting and providing refuge to those who need it most.

Published: 8th March, 2023 https://www.migranthelpuk.org/news/statement-on-the-governments-announcement-of-the-illegal-migration-bill

6 November 2022: Observer: ‘It just rings and rings’: Home Office helpline for asylum seekers rated inadequate

Refugees and support workers say Home Office-funded service is ‘torment’, with some callers left on hold for up to three hours

The government’s round-the-clock helpline for asylum seekers has been rated inadequate after callers faced “unacceptable” delays, official documents have revealed.

Run for the Home Office by the charity Migrant Help, the helpline is the main point of contact for asylum seekers needing support with housing, money and access to healthcare.

It also handles complaints about accommodation and requests for assistance with problems including “domestic violence, sexual harassment or exploitation, antisocial behaviour, destitution or homelessness or suspected radicalisation”, as well as providing eligibility guidance on asylum claims.

But while it is billed as a 24/7 service, an internal audit published last week found it answered just 13% of calls within an “accepted timeframe”, with reports of three-hour hold times and calls going unanswered or being disconnected.

Migrant Help, which was paid £17m by the Home Office last year, has now been placed in a turnaround plan by the government. But the latest audit was the 10th time in just under three years that it had been found to be underperforming on call waiting times, with ministers first warned about its performance in January 2020.

Since then its rating has been allowed to drop from “approaching target” to “requires improvement” to “inadequate”, Observer research shows, raising questions about why action was not taken sooner.

Migrant Help said it was missing its target of answering 90% of calls on time because of “significantly higher” demand than anticipated, adding that it had expanded its team in order to cope. The charity said it had assisted 81,776 asylum seekers over the last year with an average wait of 16 minutes, and had received only 275 complaints.

But charity workers said they had faced excessive waits only last week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/nov/06/it-just-rings-and-rings-home-office-helpline-for-asylum-seekers-rated-inadequate