Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

United Kingdom


Refugee Council

There is no mechanism laid down by law to identify vulnerable groups or persons with special reception needs, although there is policy that instructs caseworkers to assess whether the asylum seekers have any special medical needs that will affect dispersal.1 This policy was revised in 2016If the asylum seeker has e.g. a medical report which already shows that they are vulnerable, or has some other individual assessment showing this, the accommodation provider is required to take their vulnerability into account in providing accommodation.2 The arrangements for accommodation of children have been described above (see section on Types of Accommodation). Aside from this the law provides no specific measures to address the reception needs of vulnerable groups.

If an asylum seeker discloses a health need during screening (i.e. before dispersal) the Home Office must provide sufficient information to the accommodation provider to ensure that necessary arrangements for dispersal are put in place i.e. appropriate travel, accommodation and location. The accommodation provider is contractually obliged to take an asylum seeker to a General Practitioner within 5 days of dispersal if he or she has a pre-existing condition or is in need of an urgent General Practitioner review.3

Whether needs are addressed in fact is variable according to local practice. Initial accommodation centres are run by private companies under contract to the Home Office. The Initial Accommodation includes a healthcare team who offer a basic screening of the health needs of all residents. In practice, unless vulnerability is identified at one of the initial accommodation centres by a healthcare provider, it is unlikely to be identified until the asylum seeker discloses a problem to a voluntary, community or community advice organisation.

The Home Office has introduced a ‘protected period’ of eight weeks for women not to be moved for four weeks before and after giving birth. However, the accommodation allocated during this time is in initial accommodation centres, in which conditions are often not conducive to the care of a new baby.4

If it comes to light that an asylum seeker has been trafficked, they may be referred to special accommodation run by the Salvation Army where specific support is given and the trafficking case considered.


Reception and Care of unaccompanied children

Those who are given the benefit of the doubt and those who are accepted as being under 18 are referred to a local authority social services department which becomes responsible for their care.5 They should be looked after according to the same standards as other young people in the care of local authorities. There is little practical guidance for social workers on the specific needs of these children, although statutory guidance for England and Wales, issued in 2014, is currently being revised.6 Some helpful information for local authorities has been provided as a result of the transfer scheme – see below.

 In practice the experience of these children varies; some make good relationships with their carer and feel fully supported. Some are very confused and frightened, are not treated well, and do not have a named social worker responsible for them. The named social worker is responsible for the implementation of the care plan which details how the child should be looked after through the process. This includes helping them to find a legal representative. Many discharge this function through referral to the Refugee Council’s Panel of Advisers; funded by the Home Office since 1994 to assist unaccompanied children through the asylum process including finding legal representatives for the children.

Some local authorities, such as those with a port of entry and immigration control within their boundary, have become responsible for a disproportionate number of unaccompanied children, as the responsibility lies with the local authority where the child is first identified. When numbers started to rise in 2015-16, particularly around the port of Dover, some local authorities, particularly Kent, reported that they were finding it difficult to look after them appropriately and asked other local authorities to offer placements for them. The Immigration Act 2016 included provision for the legal transfer of responsibility from the initial local authority to a second local authority which has volunteered to take over the care. A protocol, along with information and advice for social workers is available on the ADCS website.7 Funding is provided to local authorities for the care of unaccompanied children and those who have left care but are still the responsibility of the local authority.8 The government (Department for Education) has given funding to the Refugee Council and ECPAT UK to assist carers and support workers in the care of unaccompanied children.9

The Coram Children’s Legal Centre has identified ‘lack of adequate advice, advocacy and legal representation’ as a critical obstacle to children realising their rights.10

Once appeal rights have been exhausted the care of young people over 18 is often limited to those for whom a withdrawal of support would breach of their human rights. This tends to be a more minimal provision than that provided to children. Provisions of the Immigration Act 2016, when enacted, will restrict further the support that local authorities can provide to those over 18 who are appeal rights exhausted but this has not yet been enacted.

  • 1. Home Office, Healthcare needs and pregnancy dispersal policy, available at: http://bit.ly/1Vgcw9H.
  • 2. Asylum Seeker (Reception Conditions) Regulations SI 2005/7.
  • 3. Ibid, Home Office Asylum Process Guidance.
  • 4. Refugee Council and Maternity Action, When Maternity Doesn’t Matter, 2013.
  • 5. Asylum Policy Instruction: Processing an Asylum Application from a Child.
  • 6. Home Office, Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children, July 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1tZSXZv.
  • 7. ADCS, National UASC transfer protocol, 12 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2l53tMt.
  • 8. Home Office, Unaccompanied asylum seeking children and leaving care: funding instructions, 20 October 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/1dur6KX.
  • 9. Refugee Council, Caring for separated & trafficked children, available at: http://bit.ly/2mcHkk7.
  • 10. Kamena Dorling and Anita Hurrell, Navigating the System: Advice Provision for Young Refugees and Migrants, 2012, Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti