An inspection by the Independent Chief Inspectors of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) into the use of hotels as contingency accommodation for people seeking asylum has been published today. Importantly, the Home Office has accepted all 7 of the report’s recommendations.
The inspection was carried out in 2021 and follows the ICIBI’s inspection, (with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons), into the use of Napier Barracks and Penally Camp as contingency asylum accommodation.
Hotels are by no means appropriate for accommodating for long periods men, women and children who come to this country in search of safety and we welcome the inspection into its use by the ICIBI. Since 2019 we have been supporting some of these people in hotels in various parts of England.
We been very concerned by the clear gaps in support for many people. In a report in April 2021 we highlighted this, focusing on the very negative impact on peoples’ mental health, the lack of access to healthcare and legal advice, problems with getting children school places and the digital exclusion that people marooned in hotels very often face. The use of hotels to accommodate people seeking asylum is not new, but we have seen a clear increase in its use in recent times. This results from the chronic delays in asylum decision, and consequently an enormous backlog and pressure on the asylum accommodation system.
What did the ICIBI inspection find?
This inspection focused on the delivery and assurance of the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts (AASC).
It was noticeable that the ICIBI identified backlog in deciding asylum claims as an underlying issue, leading to people staying in accommodation for a long time and putting pressure on the support system. Interestingly, the inspection also highlighted short notice and lack of consultation on the part of the Home Office with key stakeholders, especially local authorities. This is not the first time that the ICIBI has highlighted this issue.
Also of note was the ICIBI reference to the need for an overhaul of the asylum support system. It is clear in its view that the Home Office must rethink its approach and be realistic in setting targets to end the use of hotels as asylum accommodation. It argues quite rightly that Operation Oak did not work – people are still in hotels and new hotels continue to be opened.
Given the changing landscape, the ICIBI argues, the Home Office needs to be flexible, account for the changed situation and maintain oversight to ensure delivery and quality. The inspection also made note of the fact that lack of planning has had a harmful impact on Home Office staff, who feel burned out and as though they are facing the hardest moments in their career.
What was the Home Office’s response?
The Home Office has accepted all 7 of the ICIBI’s, which are:
- Conduct a review of the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts, including the volume caps, key performance indicators and the approach to provider delivery that goes ‘above and beyond’ the Statement of Requirements, to ensure they can adapt to fluctuations in intake levels and are fit for purpose for the remainder of the contract period.
- Develop effective consultation mechanisms with local authorities and their associated wraparound services (health, education, etc) to enable constructive engagement prior to the establishment of contingency asylum accommodation and to facilitate the delivery of additional Dispersed Accommodation.
- Develop effective plans and forecasts for the continuing intake (and seasonal peaks) from small boat arrivals and their impact on the contingency asylum accommodation estate.
- Develop realistic plans to end the use of hotels for contingency asylum accommodation, with realistic targets for the procurement of additional Dispersed Accommodation by the service providers, acknowledging that the current target date of March 2022 is unachievable.
- Resource the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts-Assurance team to ensure it is sufficient to maintain a programme of quarterly (in line with the Service Delivery and Contract Assurance Review document) intelligence-led inspections of all contingency and initial accommodation sites, alongside targeted inspections of dispersal accommodation.
- Prioritise the delivery of a Home Office data system that provides access to, and effective scrutiny of, all service provider contract performance and delivery data.
- Implement a system to record details of safeguarding issues identified in contingency asylum accommodation, including the accommodation site, issue of concern, and outcome.
Responding to this, Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at the Refugee Council, said:
“For years we have highlighted the human cost of an asylum system beset with chronic delays, leading to an enormous backlog and people living in inadequate conditions that are detrimental to their wellbeing and ability to engage with the asylum system. We are therefore unsurprised that an independent watchdog has identified this issue, the impact it has on asylum accommodation, and is calling on Government to do better.
“Hotels are entirely unsuitable places to accommodate for long periods men, women and children who have fled war, conflict and violence and come to the UK in search of safety. The reason this is happening more and more is because of pressure of an asylum system that isn’t working properly.
“We urge Government to take heed of these important recommendations.”