Housing people seeking sanctuary in Wales

Written by Tai Pawb

Today we are privileged to have a guest blog from Dr Anna Lindley, sharing their thoughtful analysis on the difficulties faced by refugees and people seeking asylum, and the organisations providing support. This blog will be followed by the publishing of Dr. Lindley’s full report: Building a Nation of Sanctuary Tai Pawb on the 8.12.23 – so keep your eyes peeled.


Photo of Dr Anna Lindlay

People seeking sanctuary in Wales contend with major housing challenges when they have to leave statutory asylum accommodation, with many experiencing homelessness at some point. With rising numbers of asylum-seekers, and increasingly short time frames for Home Office accommodation evictions, there is increasing pressure on local authorities and the voluntary sector to meet housing needs of sanctuary-seekers in Wales to keep people off the streets. Tai Pawb’s recent work for the Comic-Relief-funded Building a Nation of Sanctuary Consortium has yielded insights into these challenges and ways of addressing these accommodation gaps.  

People who have obtained refugee status struggle to find a place to live in the context of a wider housing crisis. The increasingly abrupt cessation of asylum support, often before people have been able to find work/set up Universal Credit, and when they still lack required deposits and guarantor contacts, means that many refugees have to seek help from Local Authorities with long waiting lists even for temporary accommodation and emergency homeless support. In recognition of these challenges, the government has contracted the Welsh Refugee Council to provide housing advice to refugees in the ‘move-on’ period.  

Meanwhile, refused asylum-seekers have even more limited options. Their legal status may not necessarily be definitive: many people struggle to get adequate legal support with their asylum case, and there are sometimes further legal avenues that can be explored. Although the Everyone-In policy temporarily mitigated against street homelessness among this group, during the pandemic, this has ended, leaving little recourse other than to personal contacts, meaning that generally their housing situations are highly precarious.  

This creates significant distress, coming on top of the rigors of the asylum process, and prior distress and trauma in countries of origin, taking a severe toll on people’s well-being. For refugees, lack of established accommodation undermines their ability to start the new phase of life in the UK in a positive way – making it hard to establish and maintain connections, get a job and settle school children. For refused asylum-seekers, homelessness leaves them vulnerable to exploitative informal housing and work arrangements. 

It is in this context that Tai Pawb has been working alongside partners, to expand the availability of housing for sanctuary-seekers and build the capacity of refugee organisations to provide housing advice and support. A recent evaluation (coming soon) of Tai Pawb’s capacity-building work found that there have been major improvements in partner operational processes including casework data collection, internal triage and external signposting/referral. As one staff member put it, Oasis [the main refugee organisation partner] is transformed really in the way that it delivers frontline work’. However, the organisations are still considerably limited in the ways that they can respond to urgent housing needs and monitor concrete housing outcomes of people they support. Trying to implement Tai Pawb’s Ready-for-Housing Framework (coming soon) revealed how over-stretched refugee organisations are and the importance of adequate funding for supported housing initiatives. Given the volatile policy context, and recognising distinct organisational capacities and strengths, it is recommended that Tai Pawb prioritise work with Housing Associations and other providers to secure additional bridging accommodation spaces.  

The current policy environment looks set to increase homelessness among sanctuary-seekers in Wales going forwards. Welsh Local Authorities are already struggling to supply housing to those eligible for it. For example, in August 2023 there were 11,185 people in temporary accommodation, and only 648 people moved into suitable long-term accommodation. The UK government’s Full Dispersal Plan is set to increase the numbers of asylum-seekers housed in Wales (responding to uneven participation of councils areas in provision of dispersal accommodation – currently asylum-seekers in Wales are concentrated in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham). Finally, the Illegal Migration Act is set to designate asylum claims from people arriving irregularly as inadmissible, likely creating a ‘perma-backlog’ of people who are undocumented and homeless. Although important policy areas are reserved for Central Government, the Welsh Government has adopted a Nation of Sanctuary Plan, pledging to support refugees in the transition to sustainable accommodation as well as working to prevent people with No Recourse to Public Funds becoming victims of trafficking or slavery. Housing is likely to become an even more urgent issue going forwards.  

Anna Lindley, SOAS, University of London