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Time to Act: refugees and delays with benefits

For a long time now, the voluntary and community sector has been highlighting the problem of newly-recognised refugees facing long delays in receiving their benefits. Delays cause much hardship for refugees and their families and put a considerable strain on charitable organisations.

The Syrian VPR Scheme, which resettles a number of Syrian refugees in Northern Ireland, shone a fresh focus on the issue.  While the first group of Syrian VPR refugees experienced delays with their benefits, the Department for Communities (previously Department for Social Development) was able to ensure prompt payment for the second group. This is a very welcome development.

Northern Ireland’s participation in the Syrian VPR scheme affords an opportunity to address this problem once and for all in a way that will benefit all refugees.

Law Centre (NI) proposes three next steps towards resolving this problem for all refugees:

  1. The Department for Communities could revive its 2011 Working Group and bring together officials from DfC/SSA/HMRC with members of the Refugee and Asylum Forum to identify required changes to policy and practice. 
  2. The Department for Communities could insert a refugee ‘marker’ into the benefit process. Individual applications could then be tracked over a specified time period. This monitoring would enable decision makers to better understand current difficulties and to identify and address causes of delay
  3. The Department for Communities could recognise refugees as a priority customer group. This is already done in GB by Jobcentre Plus. It would be consistent with the Equality Commission’s recommendation that refugees may require ‘specific targeted action’.

As articulated by the Refugee Asylum Forumin its Five Actions/SAFER campaign, no refugee should experience destitution due to administrative delays in the benefit system.

Read the Law Centre’s briefing here: Time to Act – Refugees and Delays with Benefits

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