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There are different ways to work with your Local Authority and different ways that they can show their support for sanctuary seekers in the area. The most basic action that any local authority can take is to be clear in its message that people seeking sanctuary and all newcomers are welcome. 

This section includes resources on how Local Authorities work, how to campaign effectively to bring about change, what Local Authorities can do and some examples of motions that have been passed in different cities. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is intended for guidance only. It is not a substitute for professional advice and we cannot accept any responsibility for loss occasioned as a result of any person acting or refraining from acting upon it.

What CoS groups are doing in this area:
Other resources on this site:

‘Understand how your Council works’ from

City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network (consultation)

Who holds power?

The power holders at a local level depend on what type of council structure you have, and whether your town/ city is part of a wider city region or combined authority. Your local council website should have a section called ‘Council and democracy’ or similar, explaining more. Key powerholders include those who are elected and those who are unelected.

Elected power holders (all are elected by the public to become councillors, but may then be elected by non-public vote to take up a particular office such as council leader or executive member)

  • Council leader
  • Cabinet Members/ Executive Members
  • Ceremonial Mayor
  • Metro Mayor
  • Councillors

 Non-elected power holders

  • Chief Executive Officer (this only applies in certain structures)
  • Council officers
  • Commissioners

Other regional power holders

  • Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships (funded by the Home Office and co-ordinated by a local council on behalf of a region. They oversee COMPASS contract; though limited powers to raise concerns or enforce contract compliance. Some RSMPs play a signposting and information sharing role and act as a bridge between statutory sector and refugee support organisations)
  • Health and Wellbeing Boards
  • Safeguarding Boards
  • Plus many other Boards and groups within councils, and encompassing wider stakeholders (e.g. police, health services) that responsible for strategies/services in the areas of homelessness, community safety, equality, children etc.

Strategic Migration Partnerships

There are twelve UK partnerships funded by the Home Office. These partnerships are tiered regional networks which works with partners to develop and support local migrant worker and asylum seekers and refugee networks, encompassing grass roots organisations and a network of multi-agency fora and specialist and task groups. 

The Partnerships receive an annual grant from the Home Office for the operation of the enabling function as described above. Payment of the grant is dependent on the achievement of key performance indicators agreed between the Strategic Migration Partnerships and the Home Office.

Strategic Migration Partnerships Contacts

Tips on ‘Effective Campaigning and Working with Councils’ from the Sanctuary Summit workshop on this topic

See also our section on Advocacy and Campaigning under Resources

What can Councils do to contribute to Cities of Sanctuary?

 With massive budget cuts, sometimes the minimum that councils can be asked to do by City of Sanctuary supporters is to show political leadership.  Council support for the vision of welcome is essential even if they cannot provide funding towards this.  Here is a list of possible asks for councils.  Please tell us ([email protected]) what your council is doing and help us develop this list with your ideas and examples from your local council.

“Good Practice” should include, as a minimum,

  • A motion of support for the vision of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees and to be a city / borough / town / parish of welcome
  • An official Council webpage stating the Council’s attitude to Refugees and Asylum Seekers (exemplified by City of Sanctuary status).
  • The webpage to provide information and links for both special Council Services, and for the multitude of Voluntary and Charitable Organisations serving Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  An excellent example is Oldham Council (where there is no City of Sanctuary group) has published useful guidance which provides an overview of services available to asylum seekers and refugees  
  • A survey of Council Services to find out what action is needed to ensure that those services are used by Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  This is likely to include (part of) a designated Council Officer, and Staff Training.
  • Staff awareness training across the board and in specific relevant departments such as housing and social services
  • Provision of free school uniforms and school meals to children from  families seeking sanctuary. 
  • Public Council support and involvement in Refugee Week and other positive publicity, and in facilitating leaflets, ‘Welcome Packs’, and events such as conferences and regular invitations to “welcome tea parties” or similar by the Lord Mayor or Leader of the Council
  • Free Provision of council venues for refugee support groups to meet

Other Practical measures that could be considered by councils:

  1. Include destitution amongst asylum seekers and refugees in the authority’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, which can inform the authority’s homelessness strategy.
  2. Ensure that Social Services work in partnership with the voluntary sector to identify asylum seekers who need support. Ensure existing powers, including under the National Assistance Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Act, 1970, the NHS Act 2006, Children’s Act 1989, etc. are used progressively to assist asylum seekers who are vulnerable and also to avoid destitution.
  3. Fund or provide relief to organisations who are in a position to support and help prevent the destitution of asylum seekers (including free access to venues. Meeting spaces etc.) .
  4. Appoint a strategic lead officer to ensure that the Council responds to the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
  5. Via the Health and Wellbeing Board, review whether the locally enhanced services contracted from GPs by clinical commissioners are providing adequate and effective services to asylum seekers and refugees and take action as appropriate.
  6. Ensure that the mental health needs of destitute asylum seekers are considered as part of CCG commissioning arrangements.
  7. Ensure that any child on asylum support or who is supported by the local authority is given free school meals and help with school uniforms.
  8. Ensure that all council staff that are likely to have contact with asylum seekers receive training so that they are aware of the problems asylum seekers may face.
  9. Provide and/or facilitate opportunities for asylum seekers to volunteer for projects, including those which benefit the local community.
  10. Provide and/or facilitate free English classes to asylum seekers and refugees.
  11. Seek to improve the integration of refugees so they can fulfil their potential and contribute to local communities.
  12. Encourage close working relationships with the voluntary sector to provide help, support and advice to applicants and enable a coordinated response to relevant issues.
  13. Allow people living alone to host refugees without losing their sole occupancy council tax discount (Swindon Borough Council do this for up to 3 months.)
  14. Where the Council does not have the expertise to deliver direct services to Refugees and Asylum Seekers, funding of voluntary and charitable organisations to do this.
  15. Engage with the central government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme and the National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)

See the tab ‘Other Resources for Councils’ on this page for resources on working with refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. 

Motions of Support for City of Sanctuary

Our page Motions of Support for City of Sanctuary includes examples of motions from across the UK.

Destitution Motions

Councils up and down the country have shown their opposition to government policies that force those seeking safety into poverty and homelessness by passing a Motion Against Destitution, including:

GlasgowBristolSheffield,OxfordBradfordLeedsLiverpoolKirkleesSwanseaLeicesterManchesterCoventry and Cambridge.

Download the Template Resolution on Destitution for City Councils

Please contact us for further support with this.

See also the Asylum Activism Network resource “How to win the argument – Destitution motions” .  

We also recommend the Joint Commitment to Action be used to inform the follow-up to securing the resolution on Destitution.

‘Ending Asylum Destitution’ Conference 2015

In March 2015 an ‘Ending Asylum Destitution’ conference was held in Bristol looking at practical action Councils and other partners can take to relieve destitution. At the conference, Bristol became the first councils to sign a joint commitment on ending asylum destitution.

Click here to download the Bristol Conference documents:

Ending Asylum Destitution Local Action Examples

Joint Commitment to Action to End Destitution

Local Government Association resource page for Councils needing support in working with refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. 

Document which can be adapted by local groups to send to their local authorities to get them involved with the movement.