Research Demonstrates Pilot Service is a Cost-Effective and Humane Alternative to Detention

King's Arms Project Alternative to Detention Pilot

A two-year pilot ran by King’s Arms Project demonstrates a cost-effective and more humane alternative to detention centres.

  • Being two-thirds cheaper than a detention centre.
  • With 80% of clients being offered viable options to regularise their immigration status.

About The Alternative to Detention Pilot

The pilot was developed by King’s Arms Project in partnership with the Home Office and UNHCR. It was known as the Refugee and Migrant Advice Service.

The pilot supported people without immigration status living in Bedfordshire, Luton, Milton Keynes and Northampton.

The service provided free, high quality legal advice for people without immigration status who were referred by the Home Office. It was the second in the Community Engagement pilot series. The first, Action Access, was conducted by Action Foundation in Newcastle.

Kirstie Cook, CEO at King’s Arms Project, talking about the Alternative to Detention pilot said:It wasn’t unusual for King’s Arms Project clients participating in the Alternative To Detention (ATD) pilot to have been living in limbo in the UK for over 10 years.

During the pilot, 80% of participants were presented with a viable option to regularise their status bringing them a big step closer to ending years of uncertainty and destitution.

Without the legal advice provided during the pilot, many would still be living in limbo, at risk of being detained. It is incredibly rewarding that we continue to hear from clients who have regularised their status as a result of the support and advice they received during the pilot.

Our trauma-informed approach ensured that clients were provided with the support and stability to engage with the complexities of their immigration situation through a dedicated caseworker. They not only guided participants in obtaining immigration advice but also offered support in navigating the numerous challenges many participants faced.”


The approach in the pilot is not only more humane than detaining people, it is also two-thirds cheaper as seen in the evaluation. Despite strong evidence for a trauma-informed, empowering and cost-effective alternative to detention, the government has chosen to invest in expanding the detention estate. King’s Arms Project calls for the humane approach showcased in this pilot to be established as standard practice”.

Kirstie Cook, CEO

The UNHCR Evaluation Report

The UNHCR commissioned the National Centre for Social Research to conduct independent research into the pilot.

These are the highlights:

  • Cost Effective – analysis shows the Cost of Detention of the clients supported would have been approximately two-thirds more expensive than the pilot Refugee and Migrant Advice Service.
  • With 80% of clients having viable options to regularise their immigration status.
  • Participants gained a better understanding of their rights. A King’s Arms Project Caseworker explained: “Almost all participants indicated that they had a better understanding of their immigration options and a more comprehensive understanding of their case than before the joining the pilot.”
  • The right mix – the combination of holistic support and legal counselling was central to the success of the pilot.
  • Caseworkers played an important role in ensuring that participants understood the legal advice provided to them. ‘King’s Arms Project stakeholders described the holistic nature of the support they provided as a key factor in enabling successful case management. And that holistic support combined with the clarity of legal advice formed the crux of the pilot’s success.’
  • A collaborative approach between the Home Office and the voluntary sector proves promising. We can work together to bring about positive solutions for refugees and migrants.

This pilot has demonstrated a more cost-effective and humane approach than detention centres, works for all parties. I now call for this to be standard practice!”

Laura Alshaltan, Refugee & Migrant Service Manager

Access the UNHCR Evaluation Report here.


Joseph’s Story

After 18 years of being undocumented and reporting to the police every month, I had exhausted all avenues for help including my local MP, local charities and my local Anglican Church. I totally gave up on the idea of ever regularising my status, until I got an email from the Home Office telling me about a pilot scheme they were trying out to help those people without documentation to understand their immigration options and make decisions about their next steps. I was told I’m eligible for the service and the Home Office referred me to King’s Arms Project in Bedford.

When I got in touch with KAP I was half hearted to be honest after years of disappointments and I didn’t think much of it. But the positive attitude and enthusiasm towards my case was the best thing that happened to me. KAP’s compassion and full commitment gave me the confidence in myself that I had lost 18 years ago.

I’m eternally grateful to King’s Arms Project, all their efforts and hard work paid off. After 20 years living without immigration status in the UK it granted me leave to remain in February 2023.”

Joseph, Alternative to Detention Pilot Participant
Holistic support: Each participant had their own dedicated caseworker.

Change Is Needed

Laura Alshaltan, Refugee & Migrant Service Manager at King’s Arms Project points out:

“In the year ending March 2023, a total of 19,203 individuals were released from detention, 77% of whom were granted bail and therefore re-entered the community. These numbers highlight the significant portion of people who endure the unnecessary distress of being detained. Let’s stop this unnecessary distress and drawn-out process.

I am deeply distressed by the government’s move to expand both the detention estate and the Home Secretary’s powers to detain particularly given that such a humane, trauma-informed and effective alternative exists. “


“Before this pilot, my immigration problems and life in the UK seemed to be at a dead end. I received honest help, advice, support and a mediator which all eventually led to my immigration status being regularised. I desperately wish this advice service was available earlier and to many more immigrants, I hope this pilot program receives the support it needs to continue.”

Sarah, Alternative to Detention Pilot Participant

Simon Cook, Trustee at King’s Arms Project, previously a staff member who initiated the pilot said:

It has been a huge honour to be involved in this person-centred and trauma-informed pilot throughout its inception, design and delivery. My heartfelt thanks go to our incredible clients, our truly exceptional team at King’s Arms Project, excellent external partners and to the Home Office pilot team for all their support in making this a success. Against all odds, we have proven that the voluntary sector can collaborate effectively with statutory agencies to establish holistic, compassionate and innovative approaches to immigration. I am most proud of the resoundingly positive experience of our clients who, having previously experienced profound suffering, felt empowered, informed and well-cared for.”


About the 3-part legal model

The pilot service provided many benefits including holistic support from a dedicated caseworker and a 3-part legal model.

  1. King’s Arms Project Caseworker provided their client with a list of qualified immigration solicitors to choose from, immediately empowering them with choice.
  2. The client then met with their chosen immigration solicitor and asked questions to get to know them and build trust. This step was crucial due to the traumatic experiences all pilot participants had gone through. If they wished to proceed, the immigration solicitor then requested files on their client, under the Subject to Access from the Home Office. This allowed the solicitor to fully understand the client’s immigration history and build an evidence-based case.
  3. The final part of the process was a meeting with their qualified immigration solicitor to provide advice, their caseworker would be present in the meetings with the solicitor to provide moral support. An interpreter was provided if needed. Empowering those referred to the pilot was a vital key to building trust and nurturing their wellbeing.

You can access the UNHCR Evaluation Report from their website.

*Please note, clients’ names have been changed to protect their identity and privacy.

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