UK immigration plans to evict asylum seekers from Home Office accommodation have been scrapped. The Home Office ‘U-turn’ means that around 4,000 people, who have been refused asylum in the UK, won’t face immediate eviction from their accommodation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerns were raised by Public Health England that Home Office plans to resume its eviction of some refused asylum seekers with ‘immediate effect’ could increase the spread of COVID-19 while unfairly discriminating against people of colour who would have been ‘disproportionately affected’ by the policy.
A court order signed by government lawyers and their counterparts recently, challenging the evictions policy, confirmed that Home Secretary Priti Patel had withdrawn it.
Public Health England
In a letter issued by government lawyers, they said that ‘on the advice of Public Health England (PHE) on how and when to resume eviction decisions, the Home Office will review its current equality impact assessment relating to its eviction policy’.
The legal challenge that has seemingly led to the Home Office reversal focused on the adequacy of the government’s consultation with PHE on the Home Secretary’s assessment of the impact that evictions would have on communities of colour that suffered most amid the coronavirus pandemic.
During a high court hearing on the matter in May, Mr Justice Garnham expressed concern over Patel distributing public funds without legal authority as part of its accommodation policy.
In a witness statement to the court, an official for the Home Office said: “At the time we did not consider what power, or whether we had the power, to implement what we saw as administrative changes. This was a response to the urgency of events and the immediate concern about keeping people in the same accommodation.”
Acting without lawful authority
Justice Garnham said: “The secretary of state is saying that she was acting without lawful authority. It seems to me a most serious submission to be making in court, if that is what she is saying.”
The court heard the view of PHE, which said: “We cannot advise that anyone should be enabled to become homeless from a public health perspective during the pandemic.”
The case was subsequently adjourned to allow the Home Office to clarify its policy. The case was set to continue recently, but with Priti Patel withdrawing the policy, the hearing has been cancelled.
However, the evictions policy will be reviewed when England reaches stage four of its roadmap for easing coronavirus restrictions. All COVID-19 restrictions were set to be eased on 21 June, but this will be plunged into doubt if reports are to be believed that the Indian variant of the disease is spreading across the UK.
U-turn claim inaccurate
While some have described the Home Office’s withdrawal of the UK immigration policy as a U-turn, a spokesperson for the government agency described this claim as ‘wholly inaccurate’.
The Home Office spokesperson said: “It is completely inaccurate to claim the government has U-turned on a policy necessary to manage the asylum accommodation and ease the cost to the public.”
“Throughout the pandemic, large numbers of failed asylum seekers have had accommodation and financial assistance provided at the expense of the taxpayer. It is right that as restrictions ease we begin to withdraw this support from those who are able to return home but choose not to.
“The next cessation decisions will be made no earlier than 21 June and will take account of advice from Public Health England,” the spokesperson added.
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