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Challenges and barriers that impact social work intervention with asylum seekers

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2240 words Published: 27th May 2021

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How Asylum policies impact on social work practice with UASC.

 1.0 Introduction

The Chapter will discuss the legislative and policy context governing asylum seekers and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). It will also look at Social work practice with UASC, Age assessments for UASC and the implications for local authority social services departments

The global conflicts that drive people to flee their countries in the hope of safety and stability have intensified in the last ten years. In 2014, 59.5 million refugees were forcibly displaced with over 30,000 seeking asylum in the United Kingdom in 2019, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR, 2015)). In 2015, over 9,000 UASC applications were made seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. With the United Kingdom seeing an increase in UASC asylum applications, social workers in Scotland are increasingly being asked to intervene in the lives of these kids coming to the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, Chantler, 2011, suggest that having a link between social work and immigration creates tensions between care and control functions and this has posed numerous challenges for the profession. In addition, Robinson (2013), believes that immigration policy in the United Kingdom puts pressure on social workers.

1.2 Legislation and policy context

The issue of immigration and asylum has been a subject of political and media debate since the late 1980s.  The British government in a bid to get a grip on the issue of immigration have passed several immigration and asylum laws (1993, 1996, 1999,2002, 2004, and recently 2016)

1.2.1 The Asylum and Immigration (Appeals) Act 1993

This act removed the right to secure social housing tenancies for asylum seekers. The impact of this law was increased mobility amongst asylum seeking families. Power et al 1998, suggest this impacted on asylum seeking families accessing healthcare and educational services

1.2.2 Asylum and Immigration Act, 1996

This law removed the right to cash benefits from “in-country” asylum applicants and those appealing a failed application. Although this was challenged legally and established that under the National assistance act, 1948 and Children act 1989, local authorities had a duty of care towards the destitute. This Act also introduced employment restrictions meaning asylum seekers could not work legally

1.2.3 The Immigration and Asylum Act, 1999

This act put the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) into operation, and the resettlement of asylum seekers to different parts of the UK.  Brought in the voucher system and stopped cash payment other than £10/week. Only one offer of housing was made with no choice of area. This Act also removed the obligation under the Children Act 1989 for local authorities to ensure that refugee and asylum-seeking children had an adequate standard of living.

1.2.4 The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002

This brought further changes and enabled the Home Office to withdraw support for applicants in the country, who did not apply for asylum ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’. Additionally, although this did not apply to young people but if they had entered the United Kingdom and had not claimed asylum within 72 hours, this would apply retrospectively when they were eighteen

1.2.5 The Asylum and Immigration Act 2004

This brought about the withdrawal of basic support for families. Gave Local authorities power to separate children from families if necessary as they were unable to provide accommodation and subsistence to any other members of a household except a child under 18. Furthermore, it also made it possible to persecute unaccompanied minors over the age of 10 years (8 years in Scotland) who enter the UK without immigration documentation.

1.2.6 Immigration act 2014 and Immigration act 2016

The act was brought in to make it harder for people to live and work in the UK illegally as well as persecute employees for employing illegal migrants. The 2014 act includes measures to limit access to work, housing, healthcare, and bank accounts, to revoke driving licences and to reduce and restrict rights of appeal against Home Office decisions (Taylor, R. (2018)). This was further expanded under the Immigration Act 2016.

1.3 Legislation in relation to Children

1.3.1 The Human Rights Act 1998

This places a duty on public authorities to uphold individuals’ human rights, including those of children and young people who should be treated in the same manner as any other individual.

1.3.2 The Children (Scotland) Act 1995

It is centred on the needs of children and their families and defines both parental responsibilities and rights in relation to children. It sets out the duties and powers available to public authorities to support children and their families and to intervene when the child's welfare requires it.

1.3.3 The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015

Sets out provision on human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including duty of care to victims.

1.3.4 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

States the duties of the local authorities in relation to the rights of the children. For the first time the 2014 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act brought the United nations Convention on the rights of the child (UNCRC) into a Scottish statute. This urges Social care givers to recognise the rights of children, to submit information about what they are doing to advance the rights of children.

1.4 Social work practice with UASC, Age assessments and the implications for local authority social services departments

Chantler (2011) argues that the overlapping legislative agendas impacts and contribute significantly to the uncertainty and lack of cohesiveness that exist in both policy and practice regarding social work practice with UASC and asylum seekers. Social workers in carrying out their duties have to deal with two competing laws, the national system for the protection of vulnerable adults and children and the policy on asylum and immigration (Ottosdottir and Evans, 2014). Wright, 2012, suggest this is particularly evident when supporting UASC as the initial decisions made by social workers can have significant effects on the level of support they receive. Take for instance, when a UASC claims asylum, the local authority's children's social services department where they are initially present are responsible for determining the age of the UASC.

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The responsibility for ensuring that an age assessment is legally compliant remains with the relevant local authority. Once a UASC claims asylum, it is the responsibility of the children's social services department of the local authority in the area where they originally present to complete an age assessment compliant with Merton. Merton is an age assessment procedure used to determine the age of UASC in the UK.  According to Home Office (2018),  many asylum seekers arriving in the UK claiming to be children  usually do not have credible evidence to support their age claim, the home office usually relies on a thorough assessment of the applicant's physical appearance, temperament carried out by two social workers to determine a specific birth date for use in the asylum process (Home Office, 2011). The age assessment is the only source of evidence regarding their age, the date of birth once accepted is used when making asylum decisions by Home Office case owners (Hardy, 2017).

Age assessments are a controversial and complex task and there is currently no prescribed way of conducting such assessments by local authorities. However, a body of case law has been established which provides guidance on the necessary procedure. The leading case to this regard is the case involving Merton Council (B v. London Borough of Merton, [2003] EWHC 1689 (Admin) (Scottish Government). If the age assessment determines that the UASC is under the age of eighteen, then the young person will be accommodated as a looked after child and assigned a social worker under the Children Scotland Act 1995.

Wright 2012 argued that the date of birth provided by the assessing social workers being the main determinant on the type of support accorded the UASC. It could be argued that social workers have an absolute effect on the number of years the young person will have the right to remain in the United Kingdom. A difference of 1 year in age assessment have a direct correlation between the leave granted a UASC and invariably the time of removal from the United Kingdom.

The SSSC standard of conduct in accordance with the IFSW concept points out that social workers must promote and protect the interests if service users (SSSC; IFSW, 2014). However, social workers often face conflicting choices between immigration laws and the right of the UASC facing forced removal when it is not in the best interest of the UASC to be forcefully removed. Consequently, Wright 2012 argues that this goes against the role of safeguarding young people.

Furthermore, Hardy, 2017, argues that the necessity to undertake age assessment by the state is not borne out of the need to provide support for UASC but controlling available resources. However, they also suggest age assessments are important. Age defines what the rights and entitlements of an individual are and what responsibilities and powers apply as local authorities decide how best to help a young applicant for asylum.

Crawley, 2007 cited in Wright 2012, suggests that social workers having the power and control over division and resource allocation indicate a conflict of interest when determining UASC age. They argue that this creates tension between the role the social workers play in determining the age of the UASC and the statutory obligation to manage budgets and resources.

In addition, Dowling and Parissa (2010) stressed that many asylum seekers may have different cultural perception as regards social workers and do not understand or comprehend the role of social services. Furthermore, the role of social workers within the asylum system is difficult to understand. On one hand, they are expected to uphold the core principles of social work such as the best interest of the child and on the other hand work within legislations and framework characterised by resources and funding limitations (Chase, 2010 as cited in Wright 2012) creating dilemmas in their practice with asylum seekers. 


  • Chantler, K. (2011). Gender, Asylum Seekers and Mental Distress: Challenges for Mental Health Social Work. British Journal of Social Work , 42, 318-334.
  • Dowling, M. and Parissa, S. (2010). Refugees and Asylum Seekers [Accessed 20 March 2019] Available at:< http://libeprints.open.ac.uk/20911/2/6377DE5.pdf>
  • Hardy, R. (2017) Asylum age assessments: key advice for social workers [Accessed 12 March 2019] Available at:< https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/07/24/asylum-age-assessments-top-tips-social-workers/>
  • Home Office (2018) Assessing Age [Accessed 12 March 2019] Available at:< https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/746532/assessing-age-v2.0ext.pdf>
  • Ottosdottir, G. and Evans, R. (2014) Ethics of care in supporting disabled forced migrants: interactions with professionals and ethical dilemmas in health and social care in the South-East of England. British Journal of Social Work, 44, pp. 53-69.
  • Robinson, K. (2013) Voices from the Front Line: Social Work with Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Australia and the UK. British Journal of Social Work,44, 1602-1620
  • Taylor, D (2017) How can Home Office get away with paying workers £1 an hour? [Accessed 20 March 2019] Available at:< https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/30/home-office-pound-hour-asylum-seekers-exempt-minimum-wage-legislation
  • Wright, F.(2012) Social Work Practice with Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young People Facing Removal. The British Journal of Social Work, 44, pp 1027–1044


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