There are presently, to our knowledge, more than 6000 homeless children in Birmingham.
3 of these are ‘Joe’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Thomas’. Daniel is 11 years old, and has lived in the UK since he was born:. He is now a British citizen, his mother, who is Nigerian, having been helped by ASIRT to apply for a grant to pay for the Home Office’s costly – and unlawful– registration fee. His younger brothers, twins, are 6 years old, and regarded by the Home Office as Nigerian, despite never having set foot outside the UK.
The 3 children have spent the entirety of their lives to date in poverty: The family had been supported by Birmingham Children’s Trust under section 17 of the Children Act, and so receiving financial support to the value of around £35 per person per week. Their mother was recently granted leave to remain with recourse to public funds- their mother having previously had several other applications refused.
While this should be cause for celebration, the family’s transition from Children Act support to mainstream provision has created chaos. There is presently no efficient referral mechanism in place from which families supported by the Children’s Trust can move from housing provided by the Children’s Trust to alternative housing provision, with the consequence that families such as Joe’s are thrown into crisis, essentially as a matter of routine.
In this instance, having been told that they could not remain in the accommodation in South Birmingham with which they had been provided by the Children’s Trust for several years, they were essentially given a notice period of a few days to pack their bags and leave- without having any idea where they would be moving to.
More, the Children’s Trust officially stopped paying rent on the household last Wednesday. Daniel’s mother had been told that the family was to be offered temporary accommodation by the City Council’s Housing Team on that day- although she had been given no indication of where this was. However, on the day, she received a telephone call from the Hoiusing Team to notify her that this arrangement had broken down, and that she would receive information about revised arrangements on the following day, leaving her with no option other than to remain in the family home.
Extraordinarily, she then received a number of hostile and abusive from the Children’s Trust’s contractor, the landlord of the property in which Joe and his family had been living for several years, advising her that she needed to vacate the property. This pattern of behaviour culminated in a telephone call in which the landlord declared that he expected Joe and his family to have left the property by 6pm, at which time he would otherwise be vising the property at 6pm with a group of men to physically remove them from the premises. Throughout this period, the landlord simply refused to listen to Joe’s mother’s explanation that the situation was beyond her control, the City Council’s offer of temporary accommodation having been withdrawn at short notice and, for reasons beyond our comprehension, declined to take the apparently simple and reasonable course of contacting the Children’s Trust to negotiate any potential payment terms, Joe and his family having had need to remain in the property beyond the terms of the original licence period.
At Joe’s mother’s request, ASIRT’s senior caseworker contacted the landlord to remind him of his duty to remain within the law, only to be told- quite extraordinarily-that he had never even provided Joe’s mother with a licence agreement, and was under no obligation to do so, on the basis that she ‘is just an asylum seeker’. He further noted, when reminded that he could not simply threaten to arrive at a given property with a group of men to throw a single parent family onto the street, that ‘that’s what I’ve done for the past eleven years’.
Eventually, having been ensured that police action would ensue should he attempt a forced eviction of Joe’s family, the landlord agreed to allow them to remain in the property until the following day, when they were contacted by the Housing Team and advised that they were to be placed in a bed and breakfast facility in East Birmingham, some 10 miles and 2 and a half hours from the children’s schools. They have been provided with a single room, with no chairs and no cooking facilities. They have been given no indication of how long they should expect this state of affairs. to last.
Having applied for Universal Credit in early April, Joe’s mother is still waiting on her first payment, which has been delayed by the Department for Work and Pensions on the basis that she has no National Insurance number- for which she has been advised that she will need to wait for fully 12 weeks from the date of interview. She has had her final section 17 payment.
This, then, is why ASIRT runs a hardship fund: to safeguard our clients from the destitution and misery. Crisis situations are hardwired into every aspect of the systems which regulate our service users’ lives to the extent that even the success stories- grants of British citizenship, leave to remain in the UK and recourse to public funds- create crisis situations which the families we work with are left to navigate, while being subject to institutional neglect, harassment and bullying.
We are presently holding a fundraising drive, to help meet the basic needs of people in precisely these situations of routine crisis and hardship. Please do help us if you can.
To our knowledge, there are presently more than 6000 homeless children in Birmingham