The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration yesterday published a comprehensive inspection report on the Home Office’s management of asylum accommodation provision.
The report looks at how the Home Office oversees and manages its ‘Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring of Asylum Support Services’ (COMPASS) contracts, and ensures that it and the contract holders are meeting the accommodation and other needs of asylum seekers.
In releasing the report, the Independent Chief Inspector said: “For several reasons, not least the difficulty of extracting evidence from the Home Office, this inspection proved more challenging than most. My report is likely to please no-one. It was clear from the Home Office’s response to the draft report that this topic touched a nerve. It considered my criticisms unfair and believed its efforts had not been fully recognised.”
As BBC News noted, the report found less than a quarter of asylum accommodation is compliant with standards.
The report stated: “The current inspection received evidence from 43 stakeholders, principally NGOs. Of these, two-thirds (29) focused on poor property standards, with frequent references to defects, damp, dirt and vermin. Almost half (20) referred to the unsuitability of the accommodation provided for particular groups of asylum seekers, including survivors of torture, victims of domestic violence, pregnant women and new mothers, and LGBTQI+ asylum seekers.
“In 69 property visits spread across 12 towns and cities, inspectors saw examples of accommodation that had various visible defects (leaks, damp, broken equipment), poor quality furnishings and fittings, and were dirty. Inspectors also saw examples (fewer) of pleasant, well-maintained properties. Discussions with the Home Office, the Providers, NGOs and service users about particular properties revealed how difficult it was to agree on what was ‘an acceptable standard’ of accommodation, and equally difficult to remain objective and to trust the intentions and actions of the other party.”
The Independent Chief Inspector said that the Home Office had been too accepting of the limitations of the current COMPASS contracts and how things are, and too optimistic that the work it has in hand and the new contracts would bring about improvements.
Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, responded to the report by saying: “We are deeply concerned by some of the findings of this report, perhaps all the more so because of their familiarity. Yet again we are hearing of people seeking asylum – some of the most vulnerable in our society – having to live in accommodation that is of terrible quality. These findings are not new by any stretch but echo a whole series of concerns that have been raised by a multitude of stakeholders for some time.”
In its response to the report, the Home Office accepted all nine of the recommendations made by the Independent Chief Inspector.
The response stated: “The Home Office has accepted all the recommendations in the report. We have scoped the work needed to address the recommendations, which is reflected in the action plan we are implementing. The action plan will ensure that improvements are effected across the current operation as well as within the next generation accommodation contracts.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office told BBC News: “Our comprehensive action plan will support customers in raising issues with their accommodation and ensure vulnerable people receive a more tailored service. In addition, we have restructured our routine inspections so that our approach to managing the contracts and accommodation standards is more consistent nationally.”
The Independent Chief Inspector was concerned, however, that the Home Office’s formal response appeared to underplay the evidence of poor accommodation standards, which he said was unhelpful when it comes to building trust.
The Refugee Council welcomed that the Home Office had committed to developing a broad assurance action plan to address the issues raised by the Independent Chief Inspector.
The Refugee Council’s Andy Hewett said: “Whilst a concrete assurance plan is welcome, as is the recognition by the Home Office that some people have specific needs that should be considered by safeguarding experts, it has ignored the point made about people being routinely placed, with no choice, in the same room or same long term accommodation as unrelated adults. We support the recommendation that this policy is reviewed.”