Coronavirus outbreak threatens future of asylum support charity

The immigration and asylum support charity Consonant has warned that it might have to close its doors in the next week if its emergency appeal to raise £40,000 is unsuccessful. 

The charity, which was formed from the 2016 merger of Asylum Aid and the Migrants Resource Centre and continued to use both names until a rebrand in 2019, employs 20 people and had an income of £1.2m in the year to 31 March 2019. 

It was in financial trouble before the coronavirus crisis, according to a charity spokeswoman, but the pandemic has prevented it from carrying out many of the steps it had planned to take in response.

An emergency appeal launched on Crowdfunder on 3 April had raised £18,725 of its £40,000 target on Friday afternoon.

In a statement sent to supporters, the charity said: “We are still facing a serious funding crisis and will have to shut our doors permanently if we cannot raise additional funds for our core costs in the next week or so.”

The charity, which is promoting the emergency appeal using #NeighboursHelp, provides immigration and legal advice to immigrants, asylum seekers and stateless people, as well as English language lessons and other forms of training.

A spokeswoman told Third Sector the reasons for the financial concerns included the over-expansion of the organisation, a number of funding streams being reduced and slow payments for work from the Legal Aid Agency, which created cash-flow problems. 

The charity had also identified a number of governance, leadership, management and organisational issues, and had drawn up an action plan, the spokeswoman said. 

But it was prevented from putting some elements of the plan into action by the coronavirus restrictions, such as exiting an expensive lease on its main building in Tottenham Hale and diversifying the range of cases it takes on, including cases involving clients who are not eligible for legal aid but are able to pay smaller legal fees.

The charity has a portion of its reserves invested in a charities fund investment that it cannot now access until after the crisis. 

On the charity’s crowdfunding page, it says the charity has been unable to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, under which the government has pledged to meet 80 per cent of the salaries of any furloughed employees because employees were still needed to provide services. 

It adds that the charity is investigating whether it will be able to receive a share of the £750m of support announced for charities by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 8 April, but says it is “unclear whether, and if so to what extent, this funding might be available for migrant charities” such as Consonant.

The Crowdfunder campaign is due to close on 21 May and the charity has warned that if it closes its doors the support it offers “will disappear”. 

More information about the campaign can be found here. 

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