10 Dec Home office accepts failure to protect vulnerable woman and her child from violence in shared asylum support accommodation
Success in challenge to the Home Office’s failure to have a policy in place to protect people who experience violence and anti-social behaviour in shared asylum support accommodation. Home Office agrees to amend its policy and pay the victim damages caused by the experience
Our client is an asylum seeker who is a torture survivor. She lived with her young child in a shared house provided by the Home Office together with two other families. Over a three-month period, another woman living at the house assaulted, bullied and harassed our client and her child. The abuse left our client and her son so frightened they would lock themselves in their room when the perpetrator was in the house. Our client, as the victim, wished to remain in her home but the Home Office refused to consider removing the perpetrator. Had the incidents been treated as domestic abuse, the Home Office would have considered removing the perpetrator. 
Our client applied for a judicial review of the Home Office’s refusal to consider removing the perpetrator from her home. Whilst proceedings were ongoing, our client felt compelled to leave her home, as she could no longer cope with the perpetrator’s actions and was worried about the long-term impact on her child’s mental health.
On 30 July 2020, the High Court granted our client permission to challenge the Home Office’s failure to have any policies in place to protect people who experience violence or anti-social behaviour inside their shared asylum support accommodation outside the context of domestic abuse.  In support of this challenge, we obtained evidence from several key organisations which support asylum seekers, including the Refugee Council, Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Refugee Action, whose experience confirmed that this is a widespread problem.
A contested hearing was due to take place at the High Court on 15 December 2020. However, the Home Office has just conceded the claim agreeing:
- To amend its current policy to make sure that there is a process for dealing with incidents of anti-social behaviour and assault in shared asylum support accommodation. The Home Office will carry out a consultation with key stakeholders on the amended policy. The new policy will be concluded by April 2021.
- In the interim, the Home Office will publish a note by 17 December 2020 setting out how these cases should be dealt with, including: an investigation will be carried out; the victim’s wishes about remaining in the accommodation or relocating must be considered, and this should be dealt with promptly; and that the Home Office will have overall responsibility for this process, and not their contractors.
- To make a declaration that a) the failure to carry out a safeguarding investigation and b) the failure to consider relocating the perpetrator, breached our client and her child’s human rights under Article 8 (right to family life and home) and its duties under section 55 of the Border’s Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (to safeguard and promote the welfare of children).
Our client commented:
“The most important thing to me throughout this experience has been about needing to feel safe. I am pleased that the Home Office has now finally recognised that it breached my human rights and my child’s, and that it will change its policy. However, I am sad that the Home Office did not protect us in our own home. Nothing can make up for the fact that it was us and not the perpetrator of the abuse who were forced to leave our home. I also worry that nothing can make up for the effect that witnessing all the abuse has had on my child.”
Our client’s solicitor, Sasha Rozansky, stated:
“The Home Office refused to treat violence and anti-social behaviour between people living in shared accommodation in the same way as if it were domestic abuse. This meant that the victims suffered further mistreatment by having to leave their homes. This was the Home Office’s position even though asylum seekers are forced to live together in close quarters on a no-choice basis. I am pleased that the Home Office has agreed to review its policy and produce interim guidance. I am aware of other people who will benefit from this immediately.”
The collaboration with the Refugee Council, Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Refugee Action, as well as others including the Asylum Support Appeals Project, Bristol Refugee Rights and the ASHIANA Network, was key to getting the Home Office to accept that it must have a policy to safeguard people in my client’s circumstances. I thank them for their time and involvement with this case.”
Our client has an anonymity order in place and is referred to in the proceedings as ‘XN’. No reporting of this case should directly or indirectly lead to identification of her or her child.
Solicitors representing the client: Sasha Rozansky, Robyn Taylor and Georgina Colegate-Stone
Barrister representing the client: Shu Shin Luh at Doughty Street Chambers
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