A ruling saying that refused asylum seekers who are destitute must be given accommodation during the pandemic until all Covid restrictions are lifted has been quashed by a high court judge.
At least 1,000 asylum seekers who are currently in accommodation are thought to be affected by this decision, and are now at risk of being made street homeless.
The asylum support tribunal, in April this year, concluded that because of the increased Covid risk, destitute refused asylum seekers should not be forced on to the streets or into ‘sofa surfing’. The Home Office was ordered to continue accommodating this group of asylum seekers until step 4 of the roadmap was reached.
However, in an unusual move, the Home Office went to the High Court and asked for permission to judicially review the tribunal’s decision.
Mr Justice Chamberlain granted that permission and quashed the tribunal’s decision to protect the group. He said the Home Office would not be breaching human rights rules if accommodation was not provided to them.
The Home Office, however, will not be able to start evicting those affected immediately as the judge is sending the case back to the immigration tribunal to be reconsidered.
Despite the success of the case brought by the home secretary, Priti Patel, the judge did criticise some elements. There have been a series of high court cases over the last few months relating to this issue and the home secretary’s powers to evict some asylum seekers have been scrutinised. In an earlier case, counsel for Patel was unable to give an explanation about what powers she was using.
Government lawyers provided an explanation in a letter last week, stating: “This action has been conceptualised as the exercise of prerogative power”. The judge said he believed the home secretary had reached this view recently rather than at the time when she took the decisions about whether or not to provide accommodation to refused asylum seekers during the pandemic. He said the explanation by the government lawyers was ‘infelicitously drafted’.
Sasha Rozansky of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, representing the asylum seeker who secured the earlier tribunal ruling, urged the home secretary to disclose all of the evidence supporting the assessments she has made about the public health risks of making migrants homeless during the pandemic, particularly with regard to minority ethnic communities and disabled people, and the advice about this she received from Public Health England.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the judge’s decision. 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 they return home if they are able to, rather than demand accommodation at pubic expense”.