Elements of new asylum services “set up to fail”
20 November 2020
Local and health authorities not consulted or informed as hundreds of Covid-risk asylum seekers moved into hotels in their areas.
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The Home Office is responsible for the delivery of housing and support services to people seeking asylum in the UK while their cases are being processed. These services are contracted out – in 2016 the PAC Committee raised concerns about the management of COMPASS, the previous contracts, and in late 2019 the Home Office introduced new contracts to provide accommodation and a new helpline and support service, AIRE.
The Department is paying an estimated 28% more to the new providers than for the COMPASS contracts, and in a report today the Public Accounts Committee says it must now prove it is getting value for both the taxpayer and those who rely on its services. Early signs showing there is a long way to go before the Home Office delivers what it has promised on accommodation and essential services for asylum seekers.
The lack of preparation and failure to share data meant elements of the new services were “set up to fail”. The failure to have effective services fully up and running in the first year has had a significant impact on the lives of asylum seekers, hugely exacerbated by the pandemic crisis.
Lack of discussion with local authorities
In response to this inquiry, MPs from across the UK have raised concerns with the Committee about the lack of discussion with local authorities as service providers moved asylum seekers who had contracted Covid-19 into new, temporary accommodation. In one instance notified to the inquiry a group of people were moved a hotel in a different local authority area, at the last minute and without notifying either the relevant local authority or the NHS bodies affected. In another instance, the asylum services provider had told the affected local authority, but had not informed the local health commissioner that 160 asylum seekers were moving to a local hotel, who could need medical and other services.
The Committee says the pace at which the Home Office had to work does not excuse the lack of discussion with local authorities and local NHS bodies about how to manage this resettlement. Vulnerable people, including families with children, have been living in accommodation that does not meet their needs, and for far too long – which also masks an underlying problem in ensuring adequate accommodation for people when they first apply.
Thousands of people continue to be placed in hotels rather than more appropriate accommodation. Approximately 9,500 asylum seekers are currently accommodated in 91 hotels across the UK. However, hotel use was high even before the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 1,000 people in hotels each night since October 2019.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“MPs from across the country responded to this inquiry with examples of lack of consultation and information when large numbers of people were moved into hotels in their area at pace. Quite simply, there was a wholly unacceptable failure of the Home Office to communicate with local authorities and health services as they rapidly shifted hundreds of asylum seekers into hotel accommodation. In some cases people who had contracted Covid-19 were moved to another borough without the authorities being informed. Even at the pace of events there was no excuse for this lack of communication.
“The Home Office has cranked up the payments for these new contracts – now it must prove it can correspondingly crank up performance and deliver at least decent, suitable accommodation and services to people fleeing war and persecution to seek asylum in this country.”