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Asylum seekers with care needs

If you are an asylum seeker and you or a member of your family finds it difficult to manage day-to-day tasks because of age, illness or a disability, the council in your area might have a duty to provide you with accommodation and support.

What about support from the UK Border Agency?

The UK Border Agency has a duty to provide money and accommodation to those people who are seeking asylum in the UK and have no other way of supporting themselves. The UK Border Agency does not, however, provide extra help to asylum seekers who have trouble coping with day-to-day tasks such as shopping or eating because of an illness or disability. Instead, it refers these people to their local council.

How does support from the council work?

If you think you need help coping with day-to-day living, the social work department of the local council will assess your needs. It might then provide you with support and accommodation that has been specially chosen to meet your needs. Unlike with support from the UK Border Agency, you may be able to receive support from the council even if you have enough money to support yourself and your family.

Am I eligible for support from the council?

In order to get support from the council, you or a member of your family must have a need for some kind of care or attention to help you cope with everyday life. People with the following conditions are likely to be supported by their council:

  • people with learning difficulties
  • physically disabled people
  • people with mental health problems
  • older people and people with dementia
  • people with addiction problems
  • people with HIV/AIDS
  • pregnant women.

If you or a member of your family has any of these conditions and needs help to manage day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping or eating then you should approach your council for help. The council will assess your needs and if it thinks it is necessary, it will provide you with suitable accommodation and any care and assistance you need.

How do I contact the council?

The social work department of the council has the job of providing you with care and support. You can find information on how to contact your local social care department on your council's website. Your doctor may also be able to contact the council on your behalf and explain the details of your case.

If you are worried about approaching the council then the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) will provide you with any advice or help you need.

There is also a chance that you will be automatically referred to the social work department of your council by the UK Border Agency if it decides that you are in need of care or attention.

What happens before the assessment?

Before you meet with the social work department of your council, you should have a good think about what would make your illness or disability easier to live with. Would a walk-in shower make your life a lot easier? Or having someone to help you get out of bed and get dressed in the morning? Don't be scared to let the council know exactly what it is you need and why.

You should also make it clear before your meeting with the council if you would like them to provide you with a translator or if you want to bring a friend or adviser along with you.

It can be difficult to talk to strangers about personal issues but try to be as clear as you can in explaining your problems. Remember, the council is there to help you.

How will I be assessed?

Before the council can offer you any kind of help or accommodation, it will have to find out exactly what your needs are. It will usually do this by inviting you to come into the social work office and talk about your situation and why you think you need support. The council may also contact your doctor and anyone else that might be able to tell them more about your situation or condition. If you find it difficult to travel then the council will arrange for someone to come and visit you in your home.

You can take a friend or representative along with you to the meeting. You can also ask to be given a translator to help you understand the questions and give the best answers you can. If the council refuses to let you use a translator then you should make a complaint using the council's internal complaints procedure. The Scottish Refugee Council or your local Citizens Advice will be able to assist you with this.

A member of council staff will keep you up to date with what's going on with your assessment. They will let you know as soon as possible once a decision has been made on your case. If you are not happy with the outcome of your care assessment then you should consider making an appeal against the decision.

Can the council refuse to help me?

If your need for support has come about because you don't have enough money or because you don't have anywhere to live, the council will probably refuse to help you.

This is because the UK Border Agency, not the council, has the duty to support destitute asylum seekers. If there is a chance that your problem would go away if you were given somewhere to live and enough money to support yourself then your council will have no duty to assist you.

In order for you to be eligible for care and accommodation from your council, your need for help must be caused, or made much worse, by something other than the fact that you are destitute. For example, the council would have to help you if you were weak due to a progressive illness, but it might refuse to help you if you are very weak and depressed because you have been living on the streets. Instead it might tell you to try making an application for asylum support or section four support (depending on whether your asylum claim has yet been decided).

This is quite a complicated area and if you are unsure about whether you will be able to get support from the council then you should contact the Scottish Refugee Council or the social work department of the council.

Will the council provide accommodation?

Generally speaking the council will provide you with accommodation that meets your needs. In order to do this the council might move you to:

  • a specially adapted property
  • sheltered housing
  • a care home.

If you have children, they will be able to stay with you in the accommodation provided by the council, as will your husband, wife or partner.

If you don't have any children then the council will only provide accommodation for your partner/spouse if it decides that it is necessary for your welfare that the two of you be allowed to live together. Also, because it has a duty to protect your human rights, the council can't stop you from living with your partner if it would interfere with your right to enjoy family life.

For more information and advice on this area you should contact your council or the Scottish Refugee Council.

What if my child has a care need?

If it is your child that has a need for care then the UK Border Agency, rather than the council, will accommodate your whole family.

The UK Border Agency will need to find you a home that is suitable for your child, even if that means making adaptations or moving you to another area. The council should, however, still make an assessment of your child's care needs. The council should meet any needs that can't be met by the UK Border Agency in order to make the accommodation suitable for you. For example, it might provide ground floor accommodation for the family of a child in a wheelchair, and the council might then send a support worker and physiotherapist to visit you every week.

What else will the council provide?

If the council provides you with accommodation then it should also provide you with the support and services you need to cope with day-to-day life. These might include:

  • help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc
  • help getting out and about
  • equipment for your home, for example hand rails, a hoist or a ramp
  • medical services such as physiotherapy.

The kind of services you receive will depend on your condition and may change over time depending on your needs.

What if my circumstances change?

If your circumstances change then you should contact the council and ask them to assess your care needs again. For instance, you might need more help if your family can't give you as much support as before, or if your health improves or gets worse.

The council will then look at your circumstances again and decide whether it needs to change the amount of help you receive.

What happens after an assessment?

After your needs have been assessed, the council will write a plan outlining the help and services it thinks you and your family need. The plan should let you know:

  • the services which are to be provided, who will provide them and when, and what will be achieved by providing them
  • who you should contact to deal with problems over services
  • how to ask for a review of the services being provided if your circumstances change.

The council's plan should be fully explained to you and translated if necessary.

What if I think the council has made a mistake?

If you are unhappy with the way the assessment has been carried out, or with the outcome of the assessment, there are several steps you can take.

  • First, try speaking to the social work department to sort things out. And remember, you can ask for a translator at any time.
  • If you're still not satisfied, your council should have an official complaints procedure you can use.
  • If this is unsuccessful, you could consider complaining to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

If you want to make a complaint, get advice first. An adviser at Citizens Advice or the Scottish Refugee Council may be able to help. If not, they'll put you in touch with a specialist adviser.

What if my claim for asylum has already failed?

If your claim for asylum in the UK has failed and you cannot make an appeal against that decision, you will generally still be able to receive support from the social work department of your council.

Unfortunately there are some circumstances in which the council will stop supporting you once your claim for asylum has failed. It won't support you if:

  • you have not complied with instructions for you to leave the UK or to prepare to leave the UK
  • you are a citizen of a European Economic Area (EEA) member state
  • you have made a successful claim for asylum in another EEA state.

If you fall into any of these categories then the council will only support you if it would breach your human rights not to do so.

Have my human rights been breached?

The council has a duty to ensure that it doesn't make anyone suffer inhuman or degrading treatment. This is because it has a duty to protect the human rights of the people it deals with.

So, if the council won't provide you with support because, for example, you have made a successful claim for asylum in another EEA state, and this lack of support means that you can't manage essential tasks such as eating or washing, you might be able to argue that the council has not protected your rights.

For instance, if you are in a wheelchair and the council refuses to support you, you might end up either destitute or in unsuitable accommodation. If this means that you can't manage to get to the toilet or that you are in a lot of pain then that might be regarded as a breach of your human rights. The council would then have a duty to provide you with appropriate accommodation and support.

For further advice on what to do if you think your human rights have been breached you should contact your solicitor or the Scottish Refugee Council.

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