Since the first lockdown back in March, we continued to operate our services, albeit with some changes, introducing greater remote working with a skeleton presence on sites. After the first lockdown ended, we increased in person working presence but still with an element of remote working, so that we could maintain social distancing in the workplaces. Our call centres are working in a similar way, with a greater element of staff working remotely and fewer in the office space.

With the decision in early lockdown to pause cessation and issuing decisions, our ‘Move-On’ work also was paused. This has restarted as clients are receiving decisions, although still being granted delays to move on in certain circumstances. This additional time is enabling clients with positive decisions to access the benefit system by the time support ends.

As you are very aware, the delay to cessation and the requirement of lockdown also meant that fewer clients have been moved on from the asylum system resulting in fewer moves from Initial Accommodation to dispersed accommodation over the past several months. This resulted in a large increase in hotel use and, more recently, the introduction of the MOD sites.

This has meant a corresponding rise in the total number of asylum seekers in the service and a continually increasing demand across our services. We had hoped that as the first lockdown eased, the numbers of clients in the service would reduce but subsequent lockdowns and local restrictions have prevented that. We continue to recruit staff to help match the further growth in demand, increasing our Outreach team and the call centre staff numbers.

In addition, we recognise that hotels and MOD bases don’t provide accommodation and on-site support in the way initial accommodation was envisaged and that the longer duration for clients in initial accommodation creates new and added challenges to them. 

We are working to meet these challenges with a number of initiatives. We have agreed a pilot programme with the Home Office, with video remote translated Q&A sessions with a focus on legal aid signposting. We’ve gone out to recruitment for the staff to lead it. We aim to distribute translated materials at the MOD bases with local legal aid providers’ contact details.

In addition, through our charitable funds, we are co-funding with the Home Office two new roles at each of the MOD sites to provide additional support to the clients, to work with NGOs and to create better links with the local communities. It is worth noting, however, we are not responsible for granting or declining access to site. The new Community Support Workers