With the move to an increase to the amount of appointments offered online due to the impact of restrictions imposed due to Coronavirus, Groups should be prepared for the benefits registration process to have changed.
One of your key tasks after the arrival of the refugee family will be supporting them to apply for and receive the correct amount of benefits as soon as possible. This section of our website is not aimed at making you a benefits expert. Our goal is to explain the basics and highlight some of the key issues that your Group may encounter when navigating the benefits system.
Refugees have access to the same benefits as any British citizen. This means that the adults will receive money for themselves, for their children and separately towards their housing costs. Managing finances on benefits is much more difficult than many families arriving in the UK expect. For example, an adult couple usually receives a total of £137 per week (excluding their housing costs). You can read more about managing financial disappointment on this page.
There are currently two benefits systems operating in the UK simultaneously. The old, system, which is being phased out is referred to as legacy benefits , and the current one – Universal Credit. Most families arriving through Community Sponsorship will receive Universal Credit. There may be some rare exceptions when a family will need to apply for legacy benefits instead. We have created two resources: one, very briefly highlighting different parts of the legacy system and a more detailed one for Groups supporting families to apply for Universal Credit. You can download both of them on the right-hand side of this page.
There have been negative news reports on Universal Credit as it was rolled out across the country. While it’s fair to say that the system is far from perfect it has improved a lot over time. Even if you have never accessed or navigated the benefits system before, Universal Credit should not be a cause for concern, there is plenty of advice available and you are not expected to be an expert.
Refugees arriving in Scotland
Refugees living in Scotland are entitled to all social security benefits administrated by the UK Government and the Scottish Government.
In Scotland, as well as benefits provided by the Department for Work and Pensions, such as Universal Credit and by HMRC, such as Child Benefit, there are a range of new benefits provided by the Scottish Social Security Agency that can be accessed by the refugees you have sponsored.
These include payments for supporting new babies and children. Support for those starting new jobs, help with the costs of funerals and support for young carers.
There are also crisis payments available from the Social Welfare Fund for those who are experiencing crisis like destitution due to benefit delays. This can be accessed through the local authority which the family you are sponsoring live in.
These types of support are specific to Scotland and are not available in England or Wales. You should make sure when looking for support for those you are supporting that you consult agencies based in Scotland. You can find more information on the mygov.scot website.
Although you will be supporting refugees through the process of applying for benefits, you should not feel that you need to become an expert in benefits advice. We advise groups to signpost the families they work with to local specialist support services, such as Citizen’s Advice, as much as possible, especially in case of any difficulties or problems. This will help you ensure that the family is able to address potential benefit issues independently of your Group. Your role through this process may be that of advocate, rather than adviser.
Ensure that in all of your actions, you seek the consent to act from the family you support. It may be that they would like your assistance by having access to their Online Journal for benefits – ensure that you discuss what your role is in this, how long it will be for and how you will support the family members to carry this out on their own behalf. Regularly review what you are doing and help family members to build their confidence in acting independently.
It is best to contact local advice services in your area during the planning process so that you are aware of the support they can provide even before the family arrives.