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Asylum accommodation is a disgrace

31 January 2017

The Home Affairs Committee says the current contract system for asylum accommodation isn't working and major reforms are needed. The Committee brands the state of some asylum accommodation provided by Government contractors a "disgrace" and says it is "shameful" that very vulnerable people have been placed in these conditions.

Asylum accommodation report

The Committee identifies problems including:

  • Vermin – infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs were the second biggest source of complaint of people living in dispersed accommodation
  • Unclean conditions – including families unable to put their children down on dirty carpet and rotten sofas
  • Inadequate support for vulnerable people – for example women in the late stages of pregnancy being placed in rooms up several flights of stairs or being made to share a bedroom.

The Committee says the current contract scheme isn't working:

  • Contractors are housing more people than they were funded for because of the contract design, growing delays in Home Office asylum processing and higher applications
  • Dispersal isn't working. Asylum claimants are concentrated in a small number of the most deprived areas with so many local authorities not participating which is deeply unfair
  • The inspection, compliance and complaints regimes are inadequate
  • Accommodation funding is much lower than for the Syrian refugees scheme leading to a two tier system particularly for refugees once asylum claims are concluded

Committee recommendations

The Committee recommends:

  • Immediate action to improve standards and monitoring – including giving local authorities powers of inspection, higher standards and new penalties. This process should be reformed to take account of the experience and particular needs of extremely vulnerable people including victims of torture and trafficking, those with issues relating to gender, women who are pregnant and new mothers.
  • Immediate action by the Home Office to speed up processing so fewer people need asylum accommodation – the Committee has warned in previous reports that a backlog in cases has been developing. Those warnings were not heeded and the consequences are now evident. Pressure on the asylum system, and on accommodation in particular, will not reduce unless the Government takes action to increase its capacity to process applications.
  • Immediate action to encourage more local authorities to take asylum seekers – including greater funding, involvement and flexibility such as having more control over the location of hostels (The committee notes that far more local authorities have signed up for the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme which is better resourced and more flexible).
  • Action to ensure refugees are shared more fairly between local authorities. The Committee has called for this before but there has been little progress. If local authorities still unreasonably refuse to become involved in providing asylum accommodation on a voluntary basis after the measures recommended have been in place for 12 months then the Government should use its powers to require them to do so
  • A complete overhaul of the COMPASS contracting process to replace it with a new system – the Government should consult on devolving commissioning to Strategic Migration Partnerships (partnerships of local authorities) working where appropriate with the Devolved Governments
  • Many of the recommendations in this report would bring real improvements to the service asylum seekers receive and do not require further renegotiation of the contracts: these should be implemented within six months.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace. And the current contract system just isn't working. Major reforms are needed.

We have come across too many examples of vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation for example children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women, or inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. No one should be living in conditions like that.

Even where the accommodation and support are of a good standard, it is still far too concentrated in the most deprived areas. It is completely unfair on those local authorities and communities that have signed up and are now taking many more people, when so many local authorities in more affluent areas are still doing nothing at all.

The Home Office needs to act urgently to raise standards, improve the inspection regime, deal with delays in asylum claim processing which are pushing the numbers up and ensure there is adequate funding.

The current contract system is badly designed and puts local authorities off from signing up. Ministers should learn from the success of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme which has given local authorities far more control and has also got far more local authorities involved. Similar reforms are needed for asylum seekers. But ultimately if local authorities still fail to sign up, then Ministers should be prepared to use their powers to insist that areas do their fair share.

And when the current contracts run out, they should be replaced with a completely new system – handing power back to local areas to decide on asylum accommodation rather than this top down approach.

The scale of the international refugee crisis means Britain must continue to do its bit to help asylum seekers and refugees in need of sanctuary. And we should be proud to do so. But that means it is vital that the Home Office makes sure the system is working – to support vulnerable people and local communities too."

Further information

Image: PA