The COSLA Migration Policy Team give an update on their work with Local Authorities on the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) National Transfer Scheme
Many people will have seen the headlines about unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) over the last couple of years, both in relation to unaccompanied young people in mainland Europe and those who have managed to reach the UK. These young people are supported by local authorities across the UK in differing numbers. On 7 February 2018 the UK Government extended the relevant sections of the Immigration Act 2016 to allow for the transfer of UASC between local authorities to the devolved nations as well as within England.
When UASC present in a local authority area they are provided with accommodation and support. Children’s legislation in both England and Scotland means that, after providing accommodation for 24 hours, a local authority assumes corporate parenthood and the young person in question becomes ‘Looked After’. This means that the local authority has responsibility for the young person until the age of 26 under Scottish legislation.
Historically, a small number of local authorities have supported the vast majority of UASC in the UK, mainly those in London and the South East of England that are close to major points of entry into the UK. This has placed a huge burden on these local authorities as they are required to provide accommodation and ongoing support to the young people. The care system has always struggled with capacity issues and these have become particularly acute with the increase in the number of UASC arriving in the UK over the past few years and the financial circumstances of the last 10 years.
The National Transfer Scheme (NTS) is a voluntary scheme through which local authorities can volunteer to take on the legal responsibility for UASC from other local authorities. It has been operating in England since July 2016, with statistics from the Home Office showing that there were 555 transfers from then until Sept 2017.
Following the extension of the legislation to Scotland last week, Scottish local authorities must now consider whether, and on what scale, they can participate in the scheme. This is a complex and challenging ask of local authorities. They must consider their local circumstances and the needs of the current population against taking on the responsibility of some additional young people and ensuring they can meet their needs as they go through the asylum process and beyond.
At the direction of Council Leaders, COSLA has been working with local authority officers though a working group over the last 18 months to identify and as far as possible work through any barriers to participation. A paper was considered by Leaders on 26 January which set out progress made to date and remaining barriers. Leaders agreed to consider whether, and on what scale, their local authorities can now participate in the voluntary scheme. They will have to carefully consider their local circumstances, including the looked after population already present, the capacity in the care system and all the wider demands on local authority services. There are also cost implications to for them to consider – while the Home Office provides local authorities with funding for each UASC, this does not cover the actual cost of supporting these young people.
COSLA’s working group will continue to support local authorities in this work over the coming months, seeking to ensure that the scheme is a success and that the needs of the young people are met.