Access to detention facilities

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 24/04/24


Refugee Council Visit Website

Detainees may have visits during visiting hours and there are no limits on the frequency of visits.[1] A As long as visitors provide the requested forms of identification there is no obstacle to their visiting.[2] Individual visitors may be prohibited for reasons of security but this cannot be applied to a legal adviser.[3] 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.[4] Although the signal may be poor in parts of some IRCs[5], 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 2023,[6] was 55%. Of those, 73% had a legal aid lawyer. The same charity published research in 2023 into the lack of legal advice to immigration detainees in prison and found that 75% of respondents did not have a lawyer.[7]



[1] UK government, ‘Find an immigration removal centre’, accessed 24 March 2024, available at:  

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

[3] Detention Centre Rule 37, available at:  

[4] Home Office, Detention services order 05/2018 Mobile phones and cameras in immigration removal centres, 17 December 2018, available at:  

[5] Detention Action, ‘PRESS RELEASE: Home Office Admits Mobile Phone Outage Affected Hundreds In Immigration Detention, Including Those Facing Jamaica Removal Flight’, 7 February 2020, available at:  

[6] BID, Legal Advice Survey, available at:  

[7] BID, Legal Advice Survey, 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