Home Office to continue to accommodate former asylum-seekers during Covid-19 pandemic

The Home Office has withdrawn its policy to evict thousands of destitute former asylum-seekers before the end of the Government’s ‘Roadmap out of lockdown’ (“Roadmap”). This U-turn came two weeks before the hearing of four linked claims for judicial review of the policy (QBB, PA, MA and AKN v Secretary of State for the Home Department).

In March 2020, the Home Office ceased all evictions of destitute former asylum-seekers because of the risk to public health, in line with the wider Government policy of preventing homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic. Until the pandemic, the Home Office policy had been to evict those who no longer had representations for a fresh asylum claim and refused to agree to leave the UK voluntarily.

In September 2020, the Home Office decided to resume evictions. The four claimants, who are anonymised and known by initials, brought urgent judicial reviews of the policy in the Administrative Court, which granted interim injunctions blocking their evictions. On 2 November, QBB was also granted a “class interim relief” injunction preventing the evictions of any destitute failed asylum-seekers until further order, as the country entered the “second wave” of the pandemic. On 11 November, the Home Office withdrew their evictions policy, claiming a new policy would be adopted soon and evictions would resume.

In fact, it would not be until 1 April 2021 that the Home Office published a new policy to restart evictions from Step 2 of the Roadmap. The Court gave the four claimants permission to amend their claims to challenge the new policy on the basis that the Home Office had failed properly to consider its public health or equality implications.

The claim was listed for an urgent hearing on 5 – 6 May on a ‘rolled-up’ basis, to consider permission for judicial review and the claim itself. After hearing the claimants’ argument on 5 May, Mr Justice Garnham granted them permission to challenge the policy for failure properly to consider its public health and equality impacts. On 6 May, instead of responding to the claim, the Home Office asked for an adjournment to consider the legal basis upon which they had ben continuing to accommodate former asylum-seekers during the pandemic. Mr Justice Garnham granted this reluctantly, and made an interim order prohibiting the Home Office from taking eviction decisions under the policy until the claims had been decided. The hearing was adjourned to 27 May.

On 14 May 2021, the Home Office withdrew their 1 April policy and confirmed that they will not seek to evict any failed asylum-seekers before the end of the Roadmap (Step 4), which will be implemented no earlier than 21 June 2021.

Simon Cox and Donnchadh Greene were instructed by Kathy Cosgrove and Laura Gibbons of Greater Manchester Law Centre on behalf of the claimants known in the proceedings as QBB, PA and MA, and Simon Cox and Daniel Clarke were instructed by Sasha Rozansky and Will Russell of Deighton Pierce Glynn on behalf of the fourth claimant, AKN.

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