Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration releases review of Home Office’s use of hotels as emergency asylum accommodation
May 16, 2022
On Thursday, the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) released a new report examining the Home Office’s use of hotels as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The 110-page report is here and the Home Office’s official response is here.
The ICIBI report examines the delivery and assurance of Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts (AASC). As the report notes, AASC contracts were introduced in 2019 and replaced previous COMPASS contracts. Three providers have been awarded AASC contracts for the accommodation and transport of asylum seekers and their families, namely Clearsprings Ready Homes (CRH), Mears Group and Serco.
ICIBI inspectors visited 20% of each of the hotels of the 3 AASC suppliers between May and November 2021, and the inspection revealed that the accommodation is generally provided in accordance with the statement of requirements.
The report notes, however, that changes are needed in AASC contracts due to the sharp increase in the Home Office’s use of hotels for the accommodation of asylum seekers.
David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said: “As of November 2021, 21,500 asylum seekers were accommodated in 181 hotels, more than double the figures for May 2021. and contracts AASC have a combined value of over £4.5 billion over 10 years. The landscape has changed significantly since these contracts were awarded, and they need to be revised to reflect the changing situation, with ongoing monitoring to ensure delivery and quality.
Neel added: “[T]The Home Office needs to be realistic when setting targets and working with providers and stakeholders to agree what is achievable. At the start of this inspection, we found little credible evidence that the goal of ending the use of hotels as asylum accommodation by May 2021 would be achieved; 12 months later, no one believes the revised March 2022 target is achievable. A clear understanding of the situation that enables the creation of an effective strategy is an essential first step in tackling the enormous challenges facing the Home Office.”
The increase in hotel footfall is due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boat. As the report points out, the scale of the current asylum backlog adds to the pressures on the Home Office and its staff.
A senior official from the Home Office’s Asylum Support Contracts (ASC) team told ICIBI inspectors that the past 18 months have been the most difficult of their careers. Another senior executive said: “The system is wearing people down. Everyone is on the brink. You see very experienced and very junior people falling. There’s a lot of talk about it but there’s not of change.”
David Neal commented: “[M]Ministers need to make decisions in a timely manner to enable senior officials to effect change quickly. No one knows if the establishment of reception or treatment centers will be sufficient to accommodate the current hotel population. However, it is clear that the Home Office needs to speed up the asylum decision-making process to give people some certainty and move them through the system so they can move on with their lives. Whatever the solution, it cannot come quickly enough for the large number of people who have been living in hotels for many months.”
Pressures on the system mean asylum seekers are kept in hotels for long periods of time. A senior manager at an accommodation provider told ICIBI inspectors that the mental health of asylum seekers was affected by long stays. Food was also identified as a major concern, due to a lack of choice and quality, and people’s inability to cook their own meals.
Children face particular problems when living in hotels and ICIBI inspectors have seen no evidence of activities specifically geared towards family groups or children. Stakeholders pointed out that hotel accommodation was not suitable for children and could potentially harm their longer-term mental health.
Although not part of the AASC contracts, the report notes: “In August 2021, a young Afghan boy died from a ninth-floor window of a Sheffield hotel. According to the Home Office, the hotel the boy was staying in was not emergency asylum accommodation. It was described as a temporary hotel to accommodate Afghan families arriving under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) until longer term accommodation becomes available for them through local authorities.
The report makes seven recommendations to the Home Office, all of which were accepted. The Independent Chief Inspector said he was encouraged to learn that work was already underway to address the issues raised in the report.
Responding to the report, Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at the Refugee Council, said: “For years we have highlighted the human cost of an asylum system plagued by chronic delays, resulting in a huge backlog and people living in inadequate conditions that are detrimental to their well-being and ability to engage with the asylum system, so we are not surprised that an independent monitoring body has identified this problem, the impact that he has on the accommodation of asylum seekers, and calls on the government to do better. Hotels are totally unsuitable places to accommodate for long periods of time, men, women and children who have fled the war, the conflict and violence and have come to the UK in search of safety. The reason this is increasingly happening is the pressure of a malfunctioning asylum system. We urge the government to take heed of this important recommendations. »
Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported yesterday that ICIBI could be overhauled or possibly scrapped as part of a government campaign to reduce the number of quangos.
A review of the remit and role of ICIBI will be carried out, as recommended by Wendy Williams in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review.
An unnamed government source told the Telegraph: “Once the review is complete, ministers will be able to make a full and frank assessment of its future. Whether it’s the right organ, the right configuration – all that needs to be looked at. We need to to be the only country in the world that spends taxpayers’ money scrutinizing what we’re doing instead of letting the opposition do it.”