MATTER FOR WHICH THE CHAIRMAN HAS DECIDED IS URGENT BY REASON OF THE NEED TO ADDRESS THE HOME OFFICE SCHEME TO SUPPORT THE RESETTLEMENT OF AFGHAN AND SYRIAN INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES IN THE UK
The Vale of Glamorgan Council
Cabinet Meeting: 21 September, 2015
Report of the Cabinet Member for Housing, Building Maintenance and Community Safety
Home Office Scheme to Support the Resettlement of Afghan and Syrian Individuals and Families in the UK
Purpose of the Report
1. To provide Cabinet with details on how the Council can respond to the Syrian refugee crisis through the participation in the Home Office's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme and; how it can participate in the resettlement of Afghan nationals that have supported the British Armed Forces in the Afghanistan conflict.
1. That Cabinet supports the Council's participation in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.
2. That Cabinet supports the Council's participation in the Home Office Scheme associated with the resettlement of Afghan individuals and families.
3. That Cabinet recognises the current limitations in terms of financial support for the Syrian Resettlement Scheme and continues to seek clarity from Welsh Government and HM Treasury on the necessary funding and long term support.
4. That pursuant to recommendations 1 and 2 above, delegated authority is granted to the Head of Housing and Building Services in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Housing, Building Services and Community Safety to contribute to a regional and national approach to both these challenges whereby this Council works in partnership with neighbouring authorities, the Welsh Local Government Association, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and other key partners in Wales.
Reasons for the Recommendations
1. Syrian families and individuals are in desperate need of help and support as a consequence of the conflict in Syria and are seeking resettlement in the European Union. The Home Office is seeking participation from Local Authorities across the UK.
2. The Home Office is currently seeking support from Local Authorities for the resettlement of Afghan nationals that have supported the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Participation in this scheme is in line with the principles of the Council's Armed Forces Covenant.
3. In England HM Treasury has made funding available for Local Health Boards to support Syrian families and individuals that may have complex health needs that resettle in the UK. Welsh Government has been silent on providing Local Health Boards with additional funding to support the Syrian resettlement programme however this may change as at the time of writing this report the First Minister had held a Summit the result of which was a commitment to the creation of a National Task Force to consider Wales' approach to the crisis. The mainstay funding associated with the Syrian Project is for a period of one year. The WLGA has raised the long term pressure on local authority services associated with the additional costs borne after the one year funding period ends with Welsh Government and HM Treasury and has asked for additional support in this area.
4. A regional approach to managing the project is required and appropriate in terms of capacity to deliver the project and existing support networks in the region. The Council has set aside two years of funding to allow the provision of support to asylum seekers and those seeking to resettle in the region. Cardiff Council, as one such partner has wide ranging experience and established community based support networks in the area. Both Councils currently share a Community Cohesion Officer that would also be used in part to support the work of both schemes.
Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) Scheme
2. The harrowing plight of the Syrian people seeking refuge in the European Union is well publicised. Countries across the European Union are developing responses collectively and further work is being undertaken to understand what that will look like on a Country by Country basis. The national policy directive in terms of the United Kingdom's position is changing with a recent commitment from the Prime Minister to agree to support and resettle twenty thousand Syrians over the next five years. This increase in numbers signals an expansion of an existing scheme, the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme (VPR). In recent months the Home Office has been working with Local Authorities across the United Kingdom to develop a local response to the VPR.
3. The United Nations estimated that as of February 2015 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid within Syria. At least 7.6 million people in Syria have been forced to flee their homes and there are some 3.8 million refugees in neighbouring countries. (Home Office 2015)
4. On 29 January 2014, the Home Secretary made a statement to Parliament outlining the Government’s intention to relocate to the UK some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, displaced to neighbouring countries by the on-going conflict. The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) Scheme runs in parallel with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) Syria Humanitarian Admission Programme (HAP). It prioritises help for survivors of torture and violence, women and children at risk, and those in need of medical care. The Home Office works with UNHCR to identify those at risk.
5. The VPR scheme also runs in parallel with the Government’s existing refugee resettlement programme 'Gateway' which is run in collaboration with UNHCR and a number of local authorities. People relocated to the UK under the VRP scheme are in addition to those the UK resettles each year through "Gateway".
6. The current Gateway and Syrian VPR programmes in the UK are run in partnership with local authorities and the voluntary sector. The Home Office is seeking other local authorities, including those from the devolved administrations, to participate in the VPR scheme.
7. The first group of Syrians arrived as part of the programme in March 2014 and, by the end of December 2014 (the last published figures), 143 Syrians were relocated to the UK – 34 of which were heads of family and 109 their dependents. It is the Home Office's intention to continue to relocate 10-15 people per month.
8. Individuals identified by UNHCR are allowed to bring their immediate family with them. This is limited to one spouse / partner (who must be over 18) and their minor dependent children (under 18 and not living an independent life). There is no provision to allow applicants to bring over-age dependant relatives unless they also meet the vulnerability criteria in their own right or the Home Office is satisfied that there is an existing dependency.
9. Generally, families will comprise of between 4-6 people (inclusive of the head of family) but cases will also consist of single people and the occasional larger family. Medical reports are produced by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in advance of arrival.
10. Those who are accepted under the VPR Scheme are granted humanitarian protection giving them leave to remain for 5 years with full access to employment and public funds and rights to family reunion comparable to refugees. At the end of the 5 years, if they have not been able to return to Syria, they may be eligible to apply for settlement in the UK.
11. Settlement may be refused if the person is convicted of a criminal offence during their leave and will be refused if they pose a danger to the public, or to national security. Leave to remain can also be curtailed if such evidence comes to light during the initial 5 year period. Settlement can be revoked if evidence emerges after it has been granted.
12. Local authorities who choose to participate in the scheme take the lead in working with other key local partners to ensure that arrivals are provided with suitable accommodation and the specific needs of these vulnerable individuals are met. This includes securing the prior sign up of local partners; education, housing providers and for health the Clinical Commissioning Group and local NHS England or the NHS Board in Scotland (NB - funding for health and NHS Wales/ Health's role in Wales is unclear). Some VPR providers commission the voluntary sector to deliver orientation services whilst others deliver this in-house. Consideration will also need to be given to bringing in specialist support providers subject to individuals’ specific requirements.
13. As with the Gateway Refugee Resettlement programme, central Government will meet the costs of the arrivals in terms of orientation support, health (NB funding for additional health pressures for those resettled in Wales has not been identified by Welsh Government) and education costs for the first year from arrival. Staffing costs to cover administration of the scheme will also be met.
14. Central government funding will cover a range of measures to assist the support and orientation of this group. The list below provides an indication of the kind of funding that is envisaged will be provided, based on agreements made with local authorities who are already participating in the scheme and those who accept new arrivals under the
Refugee Gateway programme:
1. Reception and ground travel costs to the receiving area
2. The actual costs of up to two months void costs when securing accommodation plus the actual cost of adapting and furnishing properties where necessary
3. One-off cash and clothing allowance for new arrivals of £200 per person paid in advance of receipt of mainstream benefits
4. £600 per head for primary care costs plus first year secondary health care costs including any specialist services that are necessary.
5. £4,500 per head for education costs for 5-18 year olds (£2,250 for ages 3-5) plus any first year costs for specialist educational support which may be required
6. Where necessary, first year adult and child social care costs as incurred
7. Actual costs of providing one year’s orientation including provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision.
15. Given the specific requirements of this group, this list is not definitive and is open to negotiation if local authorities consider there are other elements not covered here that would require funding in order to administer an orientation programme of this kind.
16. The Home Office asks that participating local authorities, in consultation with other statutory and voluntary bodies in their area assess how much an orientation package would cost, recognising that the final figure may fluctuate between differing authorities due to local circumstances which may result in an increase or decrease in costs.
17. Coventry Council has been an early adopter of the scheme and sees its participation as core to its City's values.
Resettlement Scheme for Afghan Individuals and Families
18. The National Security Council has agreed a package of measures to offer to locally engaged staff in Afghanistan who will be made redundant as a result of the UK's military drawdown. Locally engaged staff who were in Her Majesty's Government’s employ on 19 December 2012 (the date the Prime Minister announced the UK’s drawdown) and who have accrued 12 months service are eligible under the scheme. The offers made under this scheme are additional to the usual redundancy terms in local engaged staff employment contracts.
19. The package has three (3) elements:
1. Up to 5 years’ paid training or education in Afghanistan, or;
2. 18 months salary, paid in instalments, or;
3. Relocation to the UK, but only for interpreters or equivalent grades in front line roles outside the wire in Helmand, with immediate family.
Local Authorities across the UK are being asked to participate in the programme when point (3) is the chosen option.
20. Participating Authorities will work with the Home Office to ensure that what is available in the locality fits the needs of those that will be potentially relocated and will agree to approximate numbers that can be accommodated. Participating Authorities will be expected to provide newly arrived individuals or families with help to adjust to life in the UK including providing them and their immediate family members with:
a. accommodation for four months;
b. financial assistance pending access to welfare benefits or the new arrival securing employment (whichever occurs first, but nevertheless limited to four months); and
c. integration support, including but not limited to providing employment advice and assistance accessing services and benefits.
21. Monmouthshire County Council has been the first Council in Wales to take part in the scheme, aligning its commitment to the scheme with the aims and objectives of its Armed Forces Covenant. It has reported that the scheme has been a success and those resettled in the Monmouthshire area have adjusted well seeking both employment and educational opportunities.
Relevant Issues and Options
22. Officers from the Council have attended a number of information sharing sessions with the Home Office on both programmes. Officers have had the opportunity to speak to representatives from both Coventry and Monmouthshire Council on their experiences of participating in both projects. The feedback from both Councils on both schemes has been largely positive. Coventry Council has extensive experience in both programmes and Monmouthshire had been the first Council in Wales to resettle four Afghan men in shared accommodation in the Chepstow area as advised, all of whom have sought employment and/ or educational opportunities in the locality.
23. The schemes are very different in their content and the needs of the potential individuals and families that may be resettled within the area are very different. In terms of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme it was pointed out that the individuals and families that may want to be resettled in the UK may come with a range of significant health issues including physical, medical, and therapeutic needs. In England costs associated with supporting the individuals and families health needs have been funded by the Treasury. Welsh Government has yet to confirm its position in relation to additional funding for health but the First Minister has held a summit on 17th September 2015 to discuss Wales' response to the crisis, the result of which will be the establishment of a Syrian Refugee National Task Force. Welsh Government will take a lead in establishing the task force with its structure and size being considered further. It was agreed the task force will have a co-ordinating role and act as a link to the Home Office in terms of on-going discussions.
24. In July 2015 the Head of Housing and Building Services took a report on both schemes to the Vale's Local Service Board and following on from that, the Joint Local Service Board (with Cardiff colleagues and partners). In both fora attendees were very supportive of both schemes but were concerned about the lack of clarity regarding health funding for the Syrian project.
25. Further comments were received from attendees urging that a partnership approach be adopted on such projects and partners be engaged at an early stage as part of a project initiation group. As part of the report the Head of Housing suggested a regional approach may be appropriate for such a scheme as the expertise and support networks are well established in the Cardiff area. Cardiff Council colleagues asked that further consultation be undertaken with the Director of Communities at Cardiff Council outside the meeting to establish if the scheme was feasible.
26. On the 6th of August 2015 the Head of Housing and Building Services at the Vale met with the Director of Communities, Housing and Customer Service at Cardiff Council to discuss how a regional approach could be adopted. The Vale as part of its budgeting process has set aside a two year funding pot to support asylum seekers/ refugees. It was agreed that subject to both Councils' Cabinet approval the Vale would use this resource to support both resettlement schemes and that a regional approach would be progressed. More recently I and the Managing Director attended a meeting with representatives of Cardiff Council, the Local Health Board and community groups to discuss a co-ordinated approach to the issue.
Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)
27. The Council has set aside £100,000 over a two year period to support asylum seekers and refugees. The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme is fully funded by the Home Office i.e. all funding associated with the delivery and administration of the scheme, for a period of one year (with the exception of health funding). Details of funding associated with projects are explicit in the body of the report. It is envisaged that, based on the needs of the families and individuals that are resettled, which at this stage is unknown, there may be short and medium term cost pressures not only in terms of health funding but also a range of other services such as social care, education and housing.
Sustainability and Climate Change Implications
28. A Project Initiation and Monitoring Group will be set up with a wide range of partners to ensure the resettlement options for families and individuals are sustainable.
Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)
29. The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme and Afghan Resettlement Scheme have been developed in line with Humans Rights Legislation.
Crime and Disorder Implications
30. South Wales Police will be engaged at both a strategic and operational basis in terms of both schemes. Community cohesion outcomes will underpin the objectives of both schemes.
Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)
31. Robust principles of equality of opportunity have been adopted in supporting both projects.
32. Support of both schemes is in line with the Corporate Plan's principles of promoting equality.
Policy Framework and Budget
33. This is a matter for Executive decision.
Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)
34. No ward member consultation necessary.
Relevant Scrutiny Committee
35. Housing and Public Protection.
Hayley Selway, Head of Housing, Community Safety and Building Services
Committee Reports - Legal
Financial Services - Housing Accountant
Miles Punter, Director of the Environment and Housing