Frequently asked questions
Responding to RSRFL enquires through National Support Line
1. Asylum Support Overview
2. BRC Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links
- If a current/former BRC client moves to a new area – should we inform their previous caseworker or signpost to the new area?
3. FAQ – Common Enquiries
- If someone calls NSL for help to complete the asylum support application, should we signpost to Migrant Help for this or to Refugee support team?
1. Asylum Support Overview
What is the asylum seeker journey and what support is available at each stage?
Here is an interactive diagram of the journey through the asylum process, including support available.
What is Section 95 support?
People seeking asylum are excluded from claiming mainstream welfare benefits and in most cases from working. If they are destitute or at risk of becoming destitute, they can apply to the Home Office for support in the form of housing and/or basic living expenses whilst their asylum claim is being considered.
Accommodation is provided on a NO CHOICE basis and the applicant may be moved to anywhere in the UK, including contingency hotel accommodation. There are three providers contracted by the Home Office in the UK to provide asylum housing, these are Clearsprings, Mears and Serco. Here’s a map indicating the regions each provider cover
The cash received for basic living expenses is loaded on to an ASPEN card to the value of £47.39 per week per person if in self-catering accommodation or £9.58 per week if in full board, such as a hotel. If you are pregnant, you will receive an extra £3.00 during your pregnancy. You can claim an extra £3 per week if you have children under three and £5 per week for a baby under one. Migrant Help is contracted by the Home Office to process and complete applications for asylum support.
What is Section 4 support?
Asylum support on same basis as Section 95. However, Section 4 support is for someone who has had their original asylum claim refused by the Home Office, but they have a barrier to return. For example, a barrier may be a health condition preventing them from being able to travel safely by plane, or they could have an outstanding application to the Home Office that they are waiting for a decision on.
What support is available to pregnant asylum seekers?
All women in the UK are entitled to NHS maternity care regardless of immigration status. It is good practice to ensure that the caller is in contact with a midwife via their GP to ensure that they have access to health care and support services. If callers have queries around any NHS charges incurred for maternity care, they should be signposted to their local Refugee Support service.
If you are pregnant and in receipt of asylum support, you will receive an extra £3.00 during your pregnancy and then a further £5 per week for a baby under one or £3 per week if you have children under three. This supplement is to meet additional nutritional needs. The additional support should be provided to you even if you are in full board accommodation (hotel). For any issues relating to additional payments, callers should be signposted to Migrant Help in the first instance. Additionally, the Home Office offers a £300-£250 maternity grant for people in receipt of asylum support. this can be applied from 8 weeks before estimated due date, until 6 weeks after the birth. It can also be applied for babies less than 3 months old that have been born outside of the UK. The maternity payment can only be claimed once. Applications can be made via Migrant Help.
The Home Office may request evidence of pregnancy or birth from a midwife as part of the application process.
If a caller is pregnant and not in receipt of any support (for example, they are a refused asylum seeker or they are in the UK irregularly) they should be referred to their local Refugee Support service as a priority for a full initial assessment of their needs.
Emergency Cash Payments (ECP)
There is an Emergency Support Payment (ECP) provision available for people who are in receipt of asylum support accommodation but are not receiving money as expected due to an administrative/technical issue (e.g. aspen card not received, issue with activation of an aspen card, or payment not updated after move from hotel into self-catering).
The ECP will be issued by the housing provider, it should be processed within 24 hours from authorisation, although some reports it is taking up to 48 hours.
The ECP needs to be authorised by the Home Office – it should be requested via Migrant Help or the housing provider (Mears, Serco, Clearsprings). In some cases, the Housing Provider may refuse to provide so it is advisable to use Migrant Help as a first point of contact. ECP can be requested via the ‘raise an issue’ or webchat function on the Migrant Help website or via the phone line.
The caller should explicitly ask for an ECP if they are able to – Migrant Help do not proactively requesting them for people.
Please note that ECPs are not accessible for people that are receiving asylum support payments as expected but do not have money left until the next scheduled payment or for people who do not live in home office accommodation. The only remedy in these circumstances is a signpost to a food bank (and possible social services if children/vulnerability).
BRC refugee support cannot give destitution payments in these cases as the caller is in receipt of statutory support.
Why are some asylum seekers housed in hotels and others in houses?
Hotels have historically been used to house asylum seekers as temporary or ‘contingency accommodation’ where there is insufficient space in the community-based housing or ‘dispersal’ accommodation. The Home Office and its contracted providers prioritise movement out of hotels and into dispersal accommodation when capacity allows.
However, use of contingency hotel accommodation has grown significantly in past 4 years due to delays in Home Office decision making on asylum applications, creating a ‘backlog’ in the support system with slow move on. There are approximately 55,000 people accommodated across 500+ hotels today.
Whilst hotel use is intended to be short term, many individuals have experience prolonged periods in hotel accommodation.
What is the role of Migrant Help?
Migrant Help is contracted by the Home Office to give independent information, advice and assistance to people seeking asylum in the UK to understand and navigate the asylum support system. They are contracted to be “an accessible and reliable single point of contact for Service User queries and reports of issues, feedback, requests for assistance and complaints.” This includes asylum accommodation maintenance issues; issues with support payment; recording and reporting complaints; and assistance to complete and submit applications for asylum support. Individuals can contact Migrant Help on the phone line 0808 8010 503 or via the ‘Raise an Issue’ and Webchat function on the website.
Some issues can be reported 24/7, these are complaints, maintenance issues and high priority/safety critical requests for assistance.
Individuals should provide their Port Reference and/or Asylum Support reference number when they contact Migrant Help.
The Migrant Help website contains translated advice for people going through the asylum process https://www.migranthelpuk.org/advice-and-guidance.
2. BRC Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links
What support does Refugee Support provide?
BRC Refugee Support teams provide advice and support to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants who are experiencing crisis or welfare concerns. This may include support to individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, struggling to meet essential living needs, or have another concern that is causing vulnerability or barrier to integration.
There are regional variations in the support offered by local refugee support services across the UK directorate. We continue to work with individual teams across RS to understand their current remit and ensure signposting information is up to date on the Operators Manual and BRC website.
How does BRC work with Migrant Help?
BRC engages with Migrant Help at several different national and local forums where we can highlight any arising issues or trends that are impacting our service users. There is also regular strategic engagement with the Home Office where it is possible to highlight any issues with the contracted providers.
We can gather insight from the data that we gather through our work to evidence issues and trends that may need addressing. The refugee support service also holds an internal asylum support forum where operational teams can feed back issues to be escalated in our strategic engagement.
What does BRC destitution support look like?
The British Red Cross has had a destitution fund since 2003, the purpose of which is to provide emergency cash support to refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants experiencing destitution. It is not intended to replace or supplement other statutory support entitlements, nor is it sufficient to meet all essential living costs. Access to the fund is linked to the provision of our casework services.
Recipients of the fund are refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants who are not able to access statutory support and experiencing destitution. They must also be engaged in casework to support with finding more sustainable routes to longer term support.
From 27th March 2023 the refugee support destitution support rate will be £30 per person (per week). The maximum amount for a family will be capped at £180 per week (even if the family has more than 6 people). The support will be provided for a maximum period of 12 weeks.
Each area can distribute destitution payments to clients in cash, in the main this is via pre-loaded cash cards.
EU migrants are not able to access the fund.
What is statutory support?
Statutory support is financial support provided by government departments (e.g., asylum support from Home Office or Universal Credit from DWP) and/or local authorities (e.g. financial support provided by Social Services under Care Act responsibility).
How does the RS Cash Based Assistance ‘Cash Card’ work?
The prepayment card can be used to shop online, pay in shops – using contactless or chip and pin and withdraw cash at ATM (with some restrictions – a maximum of £35 withdrawal for the lifetime of the card and 60p charge per withdrawal.)
Cards are sent via post, and may take up to 7 days to arrive. Any issues with delays (including financial hardship) should be redirected their RS caseworker.
All recipients of the card will receive a letter with instructions (in their own language) of how to activate the card and the PIN number.
Clients should activate their card as soon as they receive it. If the card is not activated within 33 days from the issue date it will be cancelled.
Once activated the card will be valid for 14 weeks, their RS caseworker will load further payments to the same card if needed.
For any issues with activation or loss/theft of the card, the refugee support caseworker should be the first point of contact. Alternatively, the card team can be contacted on 0300 332 1425 (Mon to Fri 9-5).
If a current/former BRC client moves to a new area – should we inform their previous caseworker or signpost to the new area?
Service users that have been moved to a new area should be given signposting information to the RS service in their new area if they require help. They should be encouraged to inform the new area that they have previously accessed support from BRC in another area.
This will inform the team they should request for the service user’s BRM case record to be transferred. At present RS services are only able to access case records from their own region, and so they may not be able to identify from the database that someone has accessed the Red Cross before unless it is disclosed to them in the initial assessment process.
Family tracing Service – what is their remit?
For people who have lost contact with family members because of migration, conflict or natural disaster and are not able to re-establish contact through normal means (social media etc).
Does not include people wishing to trace family after adoption, family dispute, divorce or genealogical family history. (for these cases signposting resources here: Where else to get help finding missing family (redcross.org.uk)
UPDATE: IFT service will open to all new referrals from 1st June 2023. To find service contact information visit redcross.org.uk/trace enter the caller’s postcode/town in the postcode finder (image below). If caller consents, NSL call handlers could email the local IFT service with the enquirer’s name, phone number and language (if an interpreter is required). The local team will aim to contact the client within 7 days from receiving the referral however cannot guarantee timeframes due to unknown level of demand for the service.
3. FAQ – Common Enquiries
If someone calls NSL for help to complete the asylum support application, should we signpost to Migrant Help for this or to Refugee support team?
Migrant Help are contracted by the Home Office to process and submit asylum support applications to them.
However, some applications may be complex, and people may need support to gather evidence to prove that they are eligible. There may also be some other vulnerabilities that need to be considered – for example, does the caller have somewhere to sleep whilst application is processed? are there dependents? do they need BRC destitution support in the interim? For this reason, it is advisable for people to also be signposted to their local casework service for a thorough needs assessment.
Callers requesting help to find an immigration solicitor.
It is important to note that it is currently very difficult to find an immigration or asylum legal representative for free. This is because most legal aid lawyers do not have the capacity to take on any more clients due to ongoing pressures within the legal aid system. A list of asylum and immigration legal representatives can be found here Find an immigration adviser: Search for an adviser – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) – remember to search for those that have legal aid contracts.
If there is a deadline, for example a deadline to submit a notice of appeal or respond to a letter from Home Office, or a significant vulnerability that may prevent someone finding legal representation themselves – please signpost to the local Refugee Support team. Whilst we cannot act as legal representatives, we may be able to offer advice about free legal advocacy in the local area, but expectations should be managed around this.
Callers that have left luggage and personal items in their former Asylum support accommodation.
The asylum support contract states that “the quantity of luggage, possessions, or personal effects that a service user is entitled to transport will be two pieces of luggage per person, in addition to children’s toys and other effects, baby care items, medical equipment, buggies and/or prams and disability aids as applicable to the service user.”
If the client was not allowed to travel with above, which led to belongings being left at the previous accommodation, they should be signposted to Migrant Help who will raise a complaint for the housing provider to investigate. This can be made on the Migrant Help website on the ‘Raise an issue’ self-service function, select ‘complaint’ under product.
If their belongings exceeded the amount specified above, then unfortunately Migrant Help do not have a contractual responsibility to resolve and it is up to the client to make their own arrangements.
Unfortunately, the British Red Cross is not able to support with delivery costs or travel arrangements to collect personal items and luggage that have been left in asylum support accommodation. Caller may be signposted to seek support from friends, community networks and faith groups locally.
Asylum seeker is asking for help with cost of prescription
Some NHS services can be accessed by anyone, regardless of their immigration status, including NHS Prescriptions, NHS dental treatment, sight tests and travel to receive NHS treatment. However, they may incur charges if they do not have valid exemption.
Asylum seekers in receipt of asylum support should automatically be issued with a HC2 certificate, if they do not have this or it is expired, they can complete online application or contact Migrant Help. Any queries relating to fines or issues with HC2 certificate can be signposted online (Contact us | NHSBSA) or by phone 0191 232 5371. If there is a barrier to them being able to follow up themselves, a signpost can be made to local RS team.
If someone is in receipt of Universal Credit or are under 16 (or 18 and under and in full time education) they do not need a HC2 and will be automatically exempt.
Travel costs for RS Service users
Asylum seekers / refused AS can get help with cost of travel to health appointments if they have a valid HC2 certificate. For information about type of appointments visit NHS guidance Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme (HTCS) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
If in hotel accommodation caller should speak to staff on site or Migrant Help for support to arrange travel.
If outside of hotel accommodation cost of travel for pre-arranged, non-routine appointments secondary will be covered (see guidance) For reimbursement of cost SU should visit the cash office at hospital with appointment letter, valid HC2 and ticket.
If SU has Refugee Status or LTR and is in receipt of benefits or on a low income, they may be able to request help with travel costs as per guidance.
Appointments with solicitors
SUs can get travel for PRE-ARRANGED appointments with solicitor if they are provided via legal aid. They should contact their solicitor for support on this. NOTE – this does not include where you turn up without an appointment. Cost will be provided for the return fare on the cheapest available mode of public transport.
If the legal representative is not legal aid funded (e.g. private or not-for-profit) the SU will need to check with them.
If there is no alternative means to support with travel to legal appointments, then the BRC may be able to support if the SU is not in receipt of statutory support from Asylum Support, DWP or Local Authority.
Pre-arranged Apts with Home Office (e.g., interview)
HO should send travel tickets in advance if you are in receipt of Asylum support. Tickets might not arrive until the day before the interview. If you do not receive tickets in advance of appointment, caller should contact the number on the appointment letter.
It is possible HO may reimburse the cost of travel after the fact, for this SU will need to email a copy of tickets or receipt and appointment letter to Migrant Help, cash will be added to ASPEN – note this will take some time. BRC are unable to speed up process of reimbursement.
Appeal hearing at court
If you are receiving asylum support, the Home Office will pay for your travel to the hearing. You will need to request the tickets; they will not be automatically provided. Details of how to request should be included with hearing notice. SU will need to send a copy of hearing letter along with request for tickets. Please contact Migrant Help on 0808 8010 503 if you need help and support to do this.
It is possible Home Office may reimburse the cost of travel after the fact if tickets not received, for this SU will need to email a copy of tickets or receipt and appointment letter to Migrant Help, cash will be added to ASPEN – note this will take some time. BRC are unable to speed up process of reimbursement.
Travel tickets to claim asylum / submit further representation to Home Office in Liverpool or Croydon
Local Refugee Support team may be able to provide further information and support on this – please signpost to local Refugee support team for further assistance.
Travel to access emergency accommodation e.g. night shelter
Local Refugee Support team may be able to provide further information and support on this – please signpost to local Refugee support team for further assistance.
Travel to collect belongings left in previous accommodation.
Unfortunately, BRC not able to assist with this. If items left in Asylum Support accommodation see ‘Callers that have left luggage and personal items in their former Asylum support accommodation’ section in Q&A document.
Travel to Home Office reporting at local HO reporting centre or police station
Requests for transport costs are available for individuals who are living outside of a 3-mile radius from their reporting centre. This applies whether or not the individual is on asylum support. According to Home Office guidance “Applications for travel expenses to attend a reporting event must be made by the reporting person to the reporting centre specified on their BAIL 201 notice” (this is the letter provided by Home Office listing the dates and location of reporting events).
If the individual lives within 3-mile radius, however, there must be an “exceptional” reason before travel cost is provided. Please signpost to local Refugee support team for further assistance.
Travel to school
Free school transport is not classed as a public fund and can be accessed by a child regardless of their, or their parent’s, immigration status, including asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers.
The local authority may be able to provide free school transport to a child if they live a certain distance from their school, there is no safe walking route or if they are unable to walk due to having special educational needs (SEN) or a mobility problem. See the eligibility criteria for free school transport and how to access this.
How to follow up with a Family Reunion enquiry
How to respond to enquiries from abroad
Our online presence and visibility on search engines have certainly increased over the years and people have therefore more opportunities to get directly in touch but, when doing so, they may not be familiar with how we (as British Red Cross) operate or fully comprehend the remit of our work. For example, people may not understand the specific role and reach of National Societies compared to the one other components of our Movement or the difference between our international and domestic work. Language barriers can also add to the confusion.
We should also acknowledge that our British Red Cross website may offer room for misunderstandings, for example where it states, “We help anyone, anywhere in the UK and around the world, get the support they need if crisis strikes”. 
If you receive calls relating to enquiries from abroad the following text may help to shape your response
The British Red Cross Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links teams operate in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, providing advice and support to those currently living in the United Kingdom, and for this reason we are unable to offer you any direct advice or support.
Please bear in mind that even though the British Red Cross cannot help you, this does not mean that you might not be able to find support through other channels.
The list below includes some organisations that you might want to contact directly in your country as they might be able to offer advice and support or signpost to other local organisations that might help.
We are sorry that we do not have more welcoming news and we sincerely hope that you / your family will be able to access the support you need.
List of organisations you might want to contact:
- International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent website (with information and contact details of the 192 National Societies where we operate): https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/who-we-are/national-societies/national-societies-directory/
- UNHCR website (The United Nations Refugee Agency, with information and contact details of the 137 countries where it operates): https://www.unhcr.org/uk/where-we-work.html
- IOM website – International Organization for Migration – (operating in more than 100 countries): https://www.iom.int/contact-us
Note – this guidance is taken from the internal guidance on Redroom which can be found here
Some enquiries from aboard may be complex or include some safeguarding concerns. In these instances, please seek further advice from RSRFLAT or SAT colleagues before responding.
The SAT team includes an international advisor who can offer expertise on safeguarding of people abroad.
People leaving hotel accommodation and becoming homeless
Asylum Support accommodation has strict rules concerning how many nights someone is allowed to be away from their accommodation before support is stopped.
If support has been stopped for this reason, they will need to contact Migrant Help in the first instance to re-apply for the support. They may be asked to provide an explanation of where they stayed since leaving the hotel and why this cannot continue. If a caller has contacted Migrant Help but has not been able to resolve the issue, they should be signposted to their local Refugee Support service.
Streamlined asylum process – what should we do if people ask for help to complete the asylum claim questionnaire?
The Home Office announced on 23rd February a change to the asylum process intended to support clearing the backlog of asylum claims. The announcement includes that an ‘Asylum Claim Questionnaire’ will be sent to asylum applicants that applied before 7th March 2023 from specific nationality groups. The questionnaire has a 20-day deadline to be returned to the Home Office.
These questionnaires are important legal documents and should be completed by legal providers. Red Cross refugee support teams are not able to complete the forms on behalf of service users. In all cases individuals should be signposted to their legal representative for support to complete the questionnaire. If someone is having difficulties in accessing legal representation, they should be signposted to their local RS team.
The BRC website features information and advice for individuals impacted by this, along with some template letters that can be self-completed for submission to Home Office.
4. Key Updates
Notice to move to the Bibby Stockholm (Barge Asylum Accommodation)
It is expected that individuals have started to receive notice (letters from Home Office) that they will be moved to the asylum barge Bibby Stockholm that is docked at Portland Port in Dorset. It is expected the Home Office will initially move 50 people from hotels in the South West to the barge. However, this will increase to 500 at full capacity. The barge will be section 95, full board accommodation.
If you receive any enquiries from individuals that have received notice that they will be moved, please signpost the to the BRC Refugee Support team in the South West. The team are currently working with local stakeholders to identify support needs and provide casework where necessary.
Changes to Hotel Accommodation – Operation Maximise
The Home Office has instructed accommodation providers to increase capacity in hotels being used as asylum support accommodation. This is a ministerial directive named Operation Maximise. The impact of this is that many people accommodated in hotels will be sharing rooms, some former single occupancy rooms being increased to 4 beds. There may also be movement to different hotels as a result.
You may receive calls from people receiving letters to explain how they will be impacted by the change. In most cases it will not be possible for Refugee Support to challenge the decision, unless exceptional circumstances apply impacting suitability, such as health needs. If you have callers with concerns about the impact of Operation Maximise, please manage expectation of BRC ability to challenge this in individual cases. In first instance callers should be signposted to Migrant Help, then to local Refugee Support team.
What is the Illegal Migration Act, and what does it mean for the people we support?
The Illegal Migration Act (IMA) became law on 20th July 2023 – the changes in the IMA can affect anyone that arrived in the UK after 20th July 2023.
It is still unclear how the new law will be applied in practice; it is expected that many of the changes will be implemented in early 2024 but it is too soon to know how the process will look.
The following is provided for information only. Any further guidance on how to signpost callers impacted by the IMA will be provided as soon as the practical implications are clear.
The IMA introduces several significant changes to the protection rights of people seeking sanctuary in the UK, these are:
- Removing the right to claim asylum for anyone who has entered the UK irregularly i.e., without having a legitimate visa to enter or remain in the country.
In practice this accounts for the majority of people who claim asylum in the UK. Most people fleeing violence and persecution cannot seek refugee protection without being physically present in the UK first and arriving ‘irregularly’. Alternative safe routes (or what the government call ‘regular routes’) such as resettlement or country specific schemes are extremely limited. Many people fleeing violence and persecution cannot access visas or direct flights from their country of origin.
- Increased and automatic detention of at least 28 days for all people arriving irregularly – including children and pregnant women.
In practice the current size of Immigration Detention estate is not large enough to accommodate scale of increased detention. Therefore, we may see the use of large-scale institutional accommodation sites such as barracks and barges as alternative detention sites.
- Those who arrive ‘irregularly’ will be removed to their country of origin or a safe third country – intended to be Rwanda.
In practice we know that the ability to effect removals is low. According to the IMA, if a person cannot be removed to their country of origin because they might suffer ‘serious or irreversible harm’ (i.e. persecution) there, they may be allowed to stay but they will not be able to enter the asylum system. It is unclear what will happen to these people who remain in the UK unable to be returned and not able to access the asylum system.
- Financial support for people who fall under the IMA
It is expected that single people who have been bailed from immigration detention may be able to apply for Section 4 support under certain conditions. We still do not know what support families and people with dependants will receive. We expect to see an increase in destitution and exploitation as people will try to find alternative means to support themselves to avoid the conditions placed upon them to receive Section 4 support.
- Unaccompanied asylum seeking children that arrived through irregular means will become subject to removal after they turn 18. There will be no ability to challenge age assessments when a child has been assessed as an adult by the Home Office.
In practice this may result in more unaccompanied children to be placed in inappropriate accommodation with adults, children losing the care and support they need, and in some cases the removal of children.
- Survivors of modern slavery who arrive ‘irregularly’ will be unable to receive support and protection through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). This includes people who have been trafficked to the UK against their will.
We expect to see an increase in the number of people remaining in exploitation, as people will fear detention and removal if they come forward.