Asylum accommodation uninhabitable, MPs say

The Home Affairs Committee has published a report warning that some asylum seekers have been placed in accommodation infested by rats, mice and insects after arriving in the UK.

The report called the conditions a ‘disgrace’ and claimed some councils were doing much more than others to take in those in need.

The committee examined the ‘dispersal’ scheme which is used to place asylum seekers around the UK. It found applicants were concentrated in a small number of some of the most deprived areas - placing pressure on local schools and healthcare services - while the voluntary nature of the scheme meant some councils took none.

The report outlined a number of issues, including: vermin; unclean conditions; and inadequate support for vulnerable people.

The Committee also warned that part of the problem lay with the current contract scheme, highlighting: contractors are housing more people than they were funded for; 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; and 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.

Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Committee, commented: "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 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.”

“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 it is vital that the Home Office makes sure the system is working – to support vulnerable people and local communities too."

Responding to the report, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Asylum, Migration and Refugee Task Group, said: "It is pleasing that the report recognises that there are multiple schemes in operation for supporting refugees and asylum seekers in our local areas. However, it is vital that all these schemes are fully aligned and funded to ensure councils and their partners are able to offer support for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, whilst continuing to provide vital services for their local communities."