Helping refugees and asylum seekers access accommodation

Two teenage males brushing their teeth

A person with care needs, including parents, may be able to get accommodation support, from the local authority under The Care Act 2014 (adults) or Section 17 of The Children Act 1989.

If they are not able to access local authority support, then they can apply for Asylum Support (sometimes referred to as NASS support) under Section 95 (1) of The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This entitles an asylum seeker and his/her dependents, if they appear to be destitute, to accommodation and financial support.

If a person is applying for asylum support and has access to accommodation it must be decided if it is adequate for their needs; including the needs of their dependents. Accommodation may be considered inadequate if it is unsuitable for a person’s health needs or access if they have a physical disability.  

See the Housing Rights Information Service for further information and rights of refugees, asylum seekers, new arrivals and their dependents.


Imminently homeless asylum seekers can be provided with Initial Accommodation for a short period of time. In London this accommodation is usually in Croydon or East Dulwich. A system of dispersal means that most people will then be provided with accommodation outside of London and the South East. However, a number of reasons, including specific healthcare needs, should be taken into account and could result in delaying dispersal or ensuring that they stay within London. This includes those receiving treatment from Freedom from Torture, those with children with Special Educational Needs in an appropriate school placement, or those with children who are currently taking GCSE or A level examinations.

See: UKVI Allocation of Accommodation Policy  

Dispersal and health care needs

The UK Visas and Immigration Office have provided guidance on the identification of healthcare needs during the assessment of dispersal requirements. This may include a need to be accommodated in a particular location or in a certain type of accommodation, or in the case of applicants already accommodated if access to ongoing treatment for a medical condition is required.

Delaying dispersal:

The health team carrying out health screens can support to delay dispersal due to the following medical reasons:

  • If a person has HIV and a planned continuity of care, including suitable accommodation, is not yet in place
  • If a person is diagnosed with contagious TB, dispersal should be delayed and treatment should be carried out locally under the supervision of a TB specialist until no longer contagious
  • Severe mental health problems resulting in a high risk of harm to self or others, or other acute mental health needs. With treatment, some patients will become well enough to travel and be dispersed. Their care should be transferred to their new local area within a care Programme approach framework
  • Where a person is pregnant advice should be sought from the applicant’s GP, Midwife and/or Obstetrician as to whether they are fit to travel
  • Where somebody is awaiting assessment from the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture or if the Medical Foundation has advised particular treatment from a specific centre
  • Where surgery has been booked to take place within a month or where a person is recovering from an operation. Dispersal should not take place until the individual has been medically assessed as fit to travel
  • Where it is necessary for a person to have continuity of care, for example where a person is undergoing kidney dialysis
  • Where a particular medical treatment is ongoing and only available in the area where the asylum seeker is living.

Suggestions for good practice

The needs of the whole family including health and social care, family ties, education, ethnic group and religion should be considered prior to dispersal. A loss of support networks, issues of poverty, social exclusion and racism can all impact on the emotional well-being of the whole family. Good practice guidelines include:

  • Provide for families appropriate information resources, including welcome packs which explain their rights and entitlements and signpost them to support they can gain locally including social care and health services and the voluntary sector.
  • Staff at UK Visas and Immigration should be aware of issues regarding disability and illness and where to refer for relevant assessment procedures. Including assessments under the Care Act 2014.
  • Ensure integration strategies are in place in dispersal areas to ensure a seamless transition and continuing care for refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Refer to good practice guidelines for accessing health care in order to reduce the risk of care falling to the rest of the family and community.
  • Ensure that practitioners in dispersal areas are aware of newly arrived asylum seekers and that the needs of the whole family have been considered when signposting to other support services.
  • Support young people to join local projects and access services such as young carers services, youth services, peer mentoring schemes, young refugee groups and counselling support.
  • Caseworkers should inform the Visa and Immigration Office of the accommodation needs of the family rather than specifying the actual illness, e.g. they need to be located within easy access of a particular hospital, or stating they must have self-contained accommodation, a personal fridge or downstairs accommodation.
  • Health workers should provide sufficient medication to cover settlement into their dispersal area. This is to ensure that there is no interruption or change of treatment without sufficient time properly to review the current treatment regime.
  • The information received by the asylum seeker in initial accommodation should include local health and social care resources, such as hospitals, GP practices and health centres, how to find them and how to register with a new GP. This information should be translated and available in a range of languages.
  • During health checks and screening ask questions about the care needs of anyone with ill health or disability, and who is carrying out the role of carer. This information should be included in any record in order to inform the receiving health services and local authority of the needs of the whole family; including young carers.