A new report by the Public Accounts Committee reveals major concerns with the provision of asylum accommodation during the pandemic.
The report examines the performance of the new asylum accommodation and advice contracts introduced in late 2019. These comprised seven regional accommodation and transport contracts known as AASC (Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contract), and a UK wide contract for a national helpline and support service known as AIRE (Advice, Issue, Reporting and Eligibility).
- The use of hotels as contingency accommodation for extensive periods has left vulnerable people, including families with children, living in accommodation that does not meet their needs, for far too long, leaving them unable to register with a GP or enrol their children in school.
- The Home Office has failed to put in place a safeguarding framework to ensure the safety and security of some vulnerable people who use asylum accommodation and support services.
- The Home Office has repeatedly failed to properly consult with local authorities and NHS providers on the use of hotels in their areas, In some cases people who had contracted Covid-19 were moved to another borough without the authorities being informed.
- The Home Office failed to prepare effectively for the move to the new contracts and failed to accurately forecast the level of demand for the national information and advice contract, leaving many people unable to get through to the national helpline in the first months of the contract.
Commenting on the report, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:
“Sadly this report reinforces what we already know – extended stays in hotel accommodation are causing real suffering for families and individuals in the asylum system. This is hugely damaging as it means they can’t access basic services like GP appointments, or send their children to school.
It’s particularly concerning that the Home Office failed to put in place a safeguarding framework as part of the contracts – this is a critical step in ensuring people seeking asylum receive the right type of accommodation for their needs.
The failure of the Home Office and it’s providers to consult and communicate with local authorities and other key stakeholders on the use of hotels is a recurring issue. We support the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee in this report: the Home Office must set out a clear plan on how it will quickly and safely reduce the use of hotel accommodation, work closely with local stakeholders (including local authorities, the police and NHS bodies), and publish a robust safeguarding assurance framework to ensure the safety of people living in asylum accommodation.”