Home office concedes policy deficiencies in safeguards against anti-social behaviour and violence in shared asylum support accommodation

In a judicial review due to be heard next week, the Home Office has conceded that it acted unlawfully and in breach of Article 8 ECHR in failing to take steps to protect a woman and her child in the shared asylum support accommodation. XN is an asylum seeker and torture survivor who, over a three-month period, sustained violence, bullying and harassment from another woman living at the house. The abuse left XN and her son so frightened they would lock themselves in their room when the perpetrator was in the house. Although she expressed a clear wish to remain in her home the Home Office refused to consider removing the perpetrator from the house. Had the incidents been treated as domestic abuse, the Home Office would have been required to take account of XN’s wishes to remain in her home and to consider removing the perpetrator. But because XN and the perpetrator were not family members, the Home Office refused to apply those protections to her. In view of the Home Office’s position, and given XN’s fears for her and her son’s safety, she felt compelled to accept relocation by the Home Office to other accommodation.

Fordham J nevertheless granted permission to XN to proceed with her challenge to the policy lacunae in the asylum support regime to protecting those forced to share accommodation with other asylum seekers on a ‘no-choice’ basis from violence and anti-social behaviour. The judgment on permission is here.

In conceding the claim in advance of a substantive hearing, the Home Office agreed to1:

  1. amend its current policy to make sure that there is a process for dealing with incidents of anti-social behaviour and assault in shared asylum support accommodation.

  2. carry out a consultation with key stakeholders on the amended policy.

  3. publish a new policy by April 2021.

In the interim, the Home Office has also agreed to publish a note by 17 December 2020 setting out how these anti-social behaviour cases should be dealt with including a requirement to investigate safeguarding concerns, to take account of a victim’s wishes about remaining in the accommodation and to consider relocating the perpetrator. The Home Office also confirmed that it has overall responsibility for this process, not its contractors. 

Evidence filed from the Refugee Council, Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Refugee Action, the Asylum Support Appeals Project, Bristol Refugee Rights and the ASHIANA Network, was key to getting the Home Office to accept that it must have a policy to safeguard people in XN’s circumstances.

XN commented: “The most important thing to me throughout this experience has been about needing to feel safe. I am pleased that the Home Office has now finally recognised that it breached my human rights and my child’s, and that it will change its policy. However, I am sad that the Home Office did not protect us in our own home. Nothing can make up for the fact that it was us and not the perpetrator of the abuse who were forced to leave our home. I also worry that nothing can make up for the effect that witnessing all the abuse has had on my child.”

Shu Shin Luh of Doughty Street’s Public Law, Community Care and Immigration Teams. She was instructed by Sasha Rozansky, Robyn Taylor and Georgina Colegate-Stone of Deighton Pierce Glynn.

A copy of the consent order and Statement of matters relied on are here and here.