Access to detention facilities

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 30/05/23


Refugee Council Visit Website

Detainees may have visits during visiting hours. All visits take place within the sight of a detention centre officer, but not within their hearing. There are no limits on the frequency of visits, but visits are required to take place during visiting hours. As long as visitors provide the requested forms of identification there is no obstacle to their visiting.[1] Individual visitors may be prohibited for reasons of security but this cannot be applied to a legal adviser. Media and politicians have no special access but may be treated like other visitors. Detainees are issued with a mobile phone that is not capable of taking photographs. Although the signal may be poor in parts of some IRC, it is usually possible for detainees to communicate with people outside.

There are NGOs who provide support to detainees. Each IRC has a visitors’ group, which is an organisation of volunteer visitors (AVID) who provide support, practical help and friendship to detainees. Some visitors’ groups such as Detention Action engage in policy and advocacy work and research. Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) provides advice and information for detainees generally including self-help packs to make bail applications. The charity Medical Justice works for good medical care for immigration detainees and to obtain evidence of torture and the release of those who are ill. UNHCR does not have capacity to represent people in detention; in practice detainees rarely seek help from UNHCR.

BID has carried out surveys twice a year since 2010 and found that, in relation to immigration detainees held in IRC, usually between 43% and 69% of detainees had legal representatives. The latest figure, published following its survey in the last such survey in 2019,[2] was 64%. 31% were paying a solicitor privately. One in six at the time of the last survey had never had a legal representative while they were in detention. There are concerns among NGOs about the movement of detainees between different centres, and the resulting disruption in their access to legal advice. Whilst no further such surveys have been conducted, the same charity published research in 2022 into the lack of legal advice to immigration detainees in prison.[3] It is also challenging the government’s failure to provide access to legal advice for those held in the short-term holding facility at Manston.[4]




[1]  Government information on IRCs and information for visitors, available at:   

[2] BID, Legal Advice Survey, spring 2019, available at:

[3]  BID, Catch 22; accessing immigration legal advice from prison, July 2022, available at:,

[4] Leigh Day, ‘Legal challenge to failure to give asylum seekers access to lawyers at Manston asylum centre’, 3 November 2022, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection