New asylum accommodation contracts awarded – Refugee Council response

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10 Jan 2019

It was announced earlier this week  that new asylum accommodation contracts have been awarded to three major private sector providers, Serco, Mears and Clearsprings. A full list of all contracts awarded is below.

The contracts are for the provision of suitable accommodation for people seeking asylum across the UK.  As part of the new contracts Serco, Mears and Clearsprings will be required to have proactive maintenance plans, ensure that there are regular property inspections and disclose the outcome of these property inspections to the Home Office within agreed timescales.  The contracts also place an increased requirement on the accommodation providers to engage with local authorities and NGOs throughout the lifetime of the contracts.

The Home Office have awarded contracts to these following providers:

•Midlands and East of England: Serco

•North East, Yorkshire and Humberside: Mears Group

•North West: Serco

•Northern Ireland: Mears Group

•Scotland: Mears Group

•South: Clearsprings Ready Homes

•Wales: Clearsprings Ready Homes

 The Refugee Council supports the principles put forward by the Scottish Refugee Council calling for the new providers to adopt the following:

1. Understand that providing “asylum accommodation” is delivering an essential public service

Asylum accommodation is a public service. It derives from international law on refugee protection and reception standards and the right to shelter and is part of UK law. This service should be available for all people in the asylum process, including those refused and appeal rights exhausted, up to the point of voluntary or safe return. 

2. Ensure the dignity of the person is at the centre of this service

The dignity and wellbeing of the person must be placed at the centre of the design and delivery of this public service. The housing provided must recognise and meet particular needs, such as disabilities, ensuring safety for survivors of sexual violence, or that torture survivors are not forced to room-share in ways that aggravate any PTSD.

3. Support and enable people to access their rights within the asylum system 

People seeking refugee protection have rights beyond housing. Access to these rights should be supported and not hindered by the service. Important entitlements include practicable access to asylum legal representation or to healthcare - such as psychological trauma services or antenatal and perinatal care for pregnant women and new mothers. All these should be built into the design and delivery of any housing arrangement.

4. Work in partnership with local services, communities and councils.

The service should be based on the principle of responsibility-sharing and partnership working. The new provider must agree to make shared decisions with local councils and to work transparently with local services and communities

5. Agree a process of property inspections with local authorities

To ensure accommodation meets the shared standards expected by local authority property inspections.

In addition to the accommodation contracts the Home Office also announced that Migrant Help have been awarded the contract for the Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Assistance services (AIRE), which will be a single integrated and national service for people seeking asylum.

Responding to this announcement, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “In the context of weight of previous evidence for the very poor quality of asylum accommodation, it is so important that whoever is providing these services gets it right, enabling people seeking asylum to live in safe, dignified housing and access the specialist support they need. Our sincere hope and feeling is that these new contracts are able to signal a fresh start both in terms of improving the standard of accommodation and in establishing a more meaningful level of engagement between the accommodation providers and wider stakeholders.”