History of the One Stop Service

Since the North of England was established in 1999 We have responded to many crisis situations and despite these external difficulties we managed to provide a very good service in assisting our clients in meeting their needs. The service has seen continued high demand for information and advice from clients who have been experiencing destitution or the threat of immediate destitution on a daily basis.

Since April 2000 NERS has been operating the One Stop Service contract in the North east. This service is available to all asylum seekers who are entitled to support from the Home Office "National Asylum Support Service" (NASS) which was established under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Delivering services in a spirit of responding to clients needs meant that the team year after service year has managed to go way beyond our contractual number of contacts and advice sessions with clients. In addition to an endless number of S4 applications (support for people refused asylum), there has been a considerable number of NASS1 (new or renewed support applications) being submitted as well as various changes of circumstances requests to UKBA.

The continual changes in legislation have had an impact on our workload by bringing large numbers of clients into the borderline for meeting UKBA’s support criteria. We were very busy with a high number of appeals being submitted to the Asylum Support Tribunal: with a good success rate of appeals there has been a large number of clients taken out of homelessness and into support. Cross-referrals between NERS and different departments of Social Services have been an ongoing positive experience in which both parties where giving priority to clients’ needs as much as possible.

Despite all this hard work the service unfortunately could not help some of our clients, who have been coming to NERS seeking help, having been left street homeless. The best we could do for some was to provide money for food, mainly as a one-off payment, or help with travel for reporting at the local UKBA office. Thankfully we are not the only organisation in this field, so charities such as West End Refugee Service, Common Ground and others were actively fundraising to provide food and some money on a weekly basis. But still, with the best efforts of charities involved, there were some clients that could not be referred to any of them due to their limited funding. Since operation of the One Stop Service has begun the UKBA has introduced lots of changes, some of them were linked to S4 (Section 4 of the current act) support. Weekly S4 support was changed from weekly food vouchers to the AZURE card (a debit-type card but still no access to cash).

This change had some positive but also some negative impacts on clients in receipt of S4 support. Further representations (fresh claims for asylum) could no longer be submitted by post. This change was introduced by the UKBA in Oct 2009 and, as a consequence, further hardship was experienced by clients whose initial asylum application was submitted before March 2007, as they were expected to travel to Liverpool and submit their fresh claim in person. Due to an increase in projects operating out of NERS’ Tees Valley office, including Youth, Community, Capacity Building, Integration and Move-On, the team expanded into a new part of Sylvan House during 2010, and now have a training and meeting room that is used almost every day, a staff and archived file room and improved interview space. Unison Northern Region and Erimus Housing provided us with enough free furniture and equipment to fill the entire office space. Many thanks to Unison and Erimus Housing for their generous donations. Expanding the offices has meant a lot more space and networked computers for our volunteers and students, which means more work done for more of our clients. During this period, we increased the number of social work student placements from Teesside University and continued the same level from Durham. Teesside say they receive the best feedback from the NERS placement due to its uniqueness.

In 2012 the North of England Refugee Service became a founding member of the Asylum Support Partnership and the One Stop Service continues to support refugees and asylum seekers within this partnership.