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Alternatives to detention

Court of justice
Published: August 2020

UNHCR has commissioned NatCen Social Research to evaluate Action Access. Action Access is the first alternative to detention (ATD) being piloted in the UK under the Home Office’s Community Engagement Pilot (CEP) series.

The Action Access pilot was designed by the Home Office and Action Foundation, a charity based in Newcastle, with input from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other stakeholders working in the field of asylum and migration management. It is being delivered by Action Foundation and aims to support female asylum seekers who would otherwise be detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. The pilot aims to provide more efficient, humane and cost-effective case resolution for asylum seekers through community-based support including stable housing, one-to-one casework support, access to legal support, referrals to health services and pastoral support.

As Action Access is the first planned ATD pilot under the CEP series, NatCen’s independent evaluation will be crucial in identifying lessons learned and informing decision-making around further development and implementation of ATD in the UK.


Emerging findings presented in the inception report (pdf) include:

  • In general, ATD tend to be more efficient and cost-effective than detention
  • ATD have been found to reduce the risk of trauma and offences against asylum seekers’ human rights
  • As a community-based ATD, Action Access has the potential to provide a more humane and respectful treatment of women seeking asylum in the UK
  • Action Access may be a more effective way of meeting the Home Office’s requirements around effective immigration management by supporting asylum seekers to comply with the immigration system.


The evaluation engages three participant groups: Key informants, pilot stakeholders, and women participating in the pilot.

Key informants – a small group of civil society actors working on asylum and immigration issues – were engaged in in-depth interviews to investigate: how they expect the pilot to ‘fit’ within the UK immigration system, the challenges and opportunities that they anticipate for successful delivery and achievement of the pilot’s objectives, and lessons learnt from other approaches to asylum and immigration management.

Two groups of pilot stakeholders will participate in the evaluation: strategic stakeholders (UNHCR and Home Office staff and managers at the Action Foundation) and service providers (Action Foundation case workers and providers of other pilot services such as housing, legal and social support)

  • Strategic stakeholders took part in a logic model workshop during the inception phase to explore planned inputs and activities and intended outputs, outcomes and impacts.
  • Service providers and strategic stakeholders from Action Foundation were invited to take part in ‘ongoing delivery’ in-depth interviews to gather their perspectives on the connectedness and coverage of the Action Access pilot, the appropriateness of the support on offer and barriers and facilitators to successful delivery
  • All pilot stakeholders will be invited to participate in ‘final reflections’ in-depth interviews on the effectiveness and efficiency of the pilot, barriers and facilitators to success and lessons learnt for wider rollout or for other ATD schemes.

We will also speak to two groups of pilot participants: the first will be an initial group of women who have been involved in the pilot since 2019, and the second will be a cohort joining the pilot in 2020. Both cohorts will be invited to participate in two interviews:

  • Initial narrative interviews will facilitate an in-depth understanding of participants’ experiences of the pilot and other forms of immigration support and management that they have encountered prior to the pilot.
  • Follow-up interviews will explore whether and how participants’ experiences of the pilot have changed over time. They will gather participants’ reflections on the success (or not) of the pilot in meeting their needs and draw out lessons learnt for policy makers and practitioners.

Download the inception report