Afghans invited to the UK under Operation Warm Welcome, face street homelessness as hotel accommodation ends over Christmas

Published: by Sophie Earnshaw

A plan flies over a mult-storey building

People from Afghanistan who risked their lives supporting the British Forces or in jobs promoting democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, risk street homelessness by 31 December 2023 as the government ends hotel accommodation for Afghans who they offered to resettle in the UK.

For months, we’ve been raising concerns about the ending of hotels for Afghan refugees who have not found a home. In our last blog in July, we detailed what the Home Office said and promised they would do to help people find a home, against the stark reality on the ground including the significant barriers faced by people trying to find their own privately rented accommodation.

At that time, the government had announced that it would be ending all bridging hotels for Afghans by 31 August 2023. As a result of this, many families who had not been helped into a suitable home under Operation Warm Welcome have had to leave hotels and apply for homelessness assistance from local authorities and face years of uncertainty in temporary accommodation. Research done by the Local Government Association (LGA) in August found that one in five resettled Afghans had made a homeless application. The number of people who have had to present as homeless since August is likely to have increased.

An operation warm Welcome poster to highlight the government and co-partners initiative to support people from Afghanistan who worked closely with the British military and UK government into employment and accommodation

People leaving hotels at risk of street homelessness

Despite bridging hotels ending for resettled Afghans, some hotels continue to provide interim accommodation. This ‘interim’ accommodation was extended by the Home Office until 31 December 2023 on the basis that a suitable privately rented property would be offered at that time. Unfortunately, this has not happened for many Afghans remaining in hotels who are now at the cliff edge of homelessness.

We do not have the exact number, but according to a recent Big Issue article on Afghan veterans experiencing homelessness, there are still around 1,000 people who must be out of the hotels during the Christmas break. This is putting people at risk of imminent homelessness, and street homelessness in the case of people without children.

This month, we’ve had cases referred to us for legal help. We assisted someone who worked in humanitarian aid in Kabul, who had been sleeping in a park after being evicted.

Sayed (name changed) worked for Save the Children in Afghanistan and was invited to resettle in the UK. Like thousands of others who were evacuated from Kabul due to the immediate risk to their life, he had been told he would be helped to find a home and have support to rebuild his life. Instead, he was given two days’ notice to leave his hotel without any support to ensure he would have a roof over his head upon moving out. After making a homeless application to a London council and being wrongly refused help, he had nowhere to go leaving him street homeless in below-zero freezing weather conditions.

Since we challenged the decision, Sayed has been accommodated in a hotel used as emergency accommodation by the council and he faces a long and difficult journey ahead. As a single person without dependent children, the council may decide that they do not have the duty to continue to accommodate him. Thankfully Sayed has legal representation. Many people don’t know they can, and where to access legal help, and like many other people who need urgent housing, may struggle to find a legal aid lawyer to help due to legal aid advice deserts and limited capacity.

Better guidance for funding is needed for local authorities

There is significant government funding for councils to help resettled Afghans secure a tenancy in recognition of the additional barriers faced by refugees in finding privately rented accommodation. However, our experience is that guidance regarding the funding is not always clear to local authorities and that it is not being accessed as it should. We are concerned that the funding meant to help people resettle in the UK will ultimately end up back with the Treasury.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Johnny Mercer MP said in a BBC interview he ‘will have failed if any Afghan refugees in the UK are forced to sleep on the streets after leaving hotels.’ He also said that ‘this hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen.’ Well, it has. At this coldest time of year when many homelessness services are struggling over the festive period, many Afghans risk imminent street homelessness, or may already be sleeping on the streets as a result of the government’s hotel evictions. The minister also made a statement to parliament earlier today about the scheme but didn’t make it clear how many people had to be out of hotels by 31 December.

We urgently call on the government to extend the interim accommodation for resettled Afghans who do not have a home to move on to.

Your donation will support people at risk of street homelessness this Christmas and beyond

We’re doing all we can to support everyone facing the streets this winter, but we need your help. Please donate today to our urgent appeal so our legal teams and advisers can continue to offer vital advice and advocacy this Christmas, and beyond.