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Shortage of asylum seeker accommodation and "appalling" prejudice, says report

4 March 2016

The Home Affairs Committee publishes a report warning of impending shortage of asylum seeker accommodation while condemning "appalling" episodes of prejudice in its report on the work of the Immigration Directorates.

The report

The Commons Home Affairs Committee says the red doors and wrist bands scandals leave major questions to be answered about the running of the COMPASS contract providing asylum support services. It says delivery of the contract has been mostly unsatisfactory to date, with these episodes highlighting flaws in accountability and oversight of the contracts, and a failure to ensure that the way asylum seekers are treated and housed meets basic standards.

The Committee also warns of an impending shortage of asylum seeker accommodation and a lack of fair and equal dispersal throughout the country.

Key findings

The committee says:

  • Jomast and G4S must inform the Committee when the infamous "red doors" have been repainted. 
  • Service providers should establish user groups for asylum seekers in their accommodation that would enable them to present problems and complaints collectively.
  • There is no clarity on who holds responsibility for allowing the acceptable dispersal ratio of one asylum seeker to 200 local residents to be breached, nor for making sure it is reduced.
  • More local authorities must take part in the dispersal accommodation system and provide suitable accommodation for asylum seekers, particularly where there few or none in their area.
  • The Home Office should close the "Cedars", the pre-departure immigration detention point near Gatwick.
  • The inquiry has raised a number of issues which require further scrutiny and the Committee will be pursuing this issue further, starting with Serco, who are yet to come before the Committee on this matter.

The report also notes a "worse performance" on previous quarters in a number of the key Immigration Directorate indicators, including some visa and asylum application processing times, visa sponsor inspections, and immigration detention figures.

The proportion of all those who entered detention and who were then removed from the UK has gradually fallen from 63% in Q1 2010 to 40% in Q3 2015. Fewer than half of those people who enter immigration detention are removed from the UK. In Q3 2015, 31 children entered immigration detention, an increase on Q3 2014, when 26 children entered detention.

The Committee calls on the Government to stick to its timetable for implementing the recommendations of the Shaw review, particularly on detention reviews, not detaining vulnerable people, and improving healthcare. The Committee regularly monitors measures relating to immigration detention, and expects to see significant progress on these issues.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, said:

"G4S, Serco and Clearsprings receive millions of pounds of public money to house asylum seekers, and revelations in recent months have been alarming. The compulsory wearing of wrist bands and the infamous red doors demonstrate an unacceptable attitude towards vulnerable people. The Home Office has failed to provide proper oversight and inspection, and must do better.

The dispersal system appears unfair, with whole swathes of the country never receiving a single asylum seeker. The majority are being moved into low-cost housing in urban areas such as Glasgow, Stoke, Cardiff and of course Middlesbrough, where the ratio is 1 asylum seeker per 137 people. However, on the data we have received, local authorities in areas such as Maidenhead, Lincoln and Warwick have housed none.

The UK will be facing an unprecedented demand on housing for asylum seekers in the next few years. Between the increasing numbers housed under the Compass contract and the Prime Minister's pledge to house 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, we may need to house as many as 50,000 asylum seekers by 2017 if current trends continue. Reconsideration should be given to the generous offers from individuals such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and others to house Syrian refugees.

The Home Office should direct resources away from wasteful projects like Cedars, which has been described to us as 'palatial' and underused, and it should be closed in its present form and reconfigured to assist in the asylum housing crisis."

Further information

Image: PA