The Home Office has denied asylum seekers are being housed in “degrading conditions” and said it is content for private contractors to carry out their own inspections of housing that they manage.
The government has also rejected a call for an independent review of people’s experience of living in accommodation assigned to them while they seek refugee status.
Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee last year urged the Home Office to improve “unacceptably poor” conditions in some housing for asylum seekers, including dirty living quarters, leaks, damp, broken equipment and poor quality furnishings.
The committee had raised concerns that outsourcers managing the accommodation were allowed to carry out their own inspections, and suggested that local authorities be put in charge of inspecting properties.
But in its response yesterday, three months after it handed out asylum accommodation contracts worth £4bn, the government said: “The department does not accept that asylum seekers are being housed in degrading conditions.”
It said improvements made to a property highlighted by an Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration report last year as having “unacceptable” conditions showed the existing system was working.
“We are not convinced that passing this responsibility to local authorities would improve standards,” it added. It said the Home Office and local authorities did carry out joint inspections “where beneficial”, but neither conducts regular inspections.
“The Home Office expects the highest standards from our contractors, which are monitored closely to ensure they meet those standards. It is not the case that the department simply relies upon their assurances in this regard,” it said.
Responding to the committee’s call for an independent review of asylum seekers’ experience of housing, the government said it agreed that “effective capture and analysis of customer insights is beneficial”.
But rather than a review, it said it was planning to develop and commission an initiative to improve data gathering, as set out in its assurance plan for asylum accommodation, by March 2020.
'A more tripartite relationship'
Despite refusing to make local government responsible for inspecting housing, the Home Office did say it had taken steps to improve its relationship with local authorities, which accept asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. The committee had urged the department to step up its support for and engagement with local authorities..
The government said it had developed new structures to create a “more tripartite relationship” between the Home Office, local authorities and accommodation providers.
It said it was establishing a task group, chaired by a minister, which will be supported by a “regular, senior-level” Home Office and Local Government Chief Executive Group. The HOLGCEG will oversee the dispersal of asylum seekers around the country and provide advice on dispersal and asylum issues.
The HOLGCEG will provide a “clear and ongoing conduit for discussion at a senior official level between national government and local government… [and] support a more balanced and effective partnership relationship between councils, the Home Office and [accommodation] providers locally and regionally”, the response said.
It did not commit to giving local authorities dedicated funding to help manage asylum seekers and their impact on local services, as recommended by the committee. Instead, it said the Home Office had agreed a joint review with local authorities into the costs, pressures and social impact of hosting asylum seekers.