Author : Bill Tanner
Council leaders in Yorkshire have warned of “catastrophic failure” facing the housing of asylum seekers in the region – slamming Home Office outsourcing of the scheme.
In letter to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, the heads of 14 local authorities say the Home Office had ignored issues of “cohesion or disproportionate concentrations” of asylum seekers.
There were 5,258 asylum seekers in Yorkshire and the Humber as of March this year, the majority in Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull.
According to the letter, many northern towns and cities have more asylum seekers “clustered in a handful of wards than entire regions in the south and east of the country”.
Responsibility for housing asylum seekers was removed from councils in 2012 and given to Serco, G4S and Clearsprings under contracts with the Home Office.
In October, the Refugee Council criticised the contractors for “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions”.
New contracts to provide asylum seeker housing from September 2019 are currently out to tender, but it has been reported that there have not yet been any successful bids – prompting fears that arrangements will not be in place in time.
To the council leaders, for too long, asylum dispersal has been implemented as something done to councils and communities in the north of England rather than “done with them” in partnership – with little heed paid to concerns raised about cohesion or disproportionate concentration.
The letter reads: “A number of local authorities have regularly expressed these immigration concerns to the Home Office and immigration ministers, but we have experienced little urgency in addressing them.”
“Being an asylum dispersal area is voluntary and some local authorities in our region have over recent months been giving serious consideration to actively pursuing withdrawal.
“The current process of procurement for the new asylum system is making this outcome increasingly likely, whilst for potential new areas there is reduced incentive to join.
We fear that the Home Office continuing the current approach risks catastrophic failure of the new asylum system as soon as it begins.”
MPs on the home affairs select committee heard evidence in 2016 that G4S and Serco were losing money on their contracts, in part because of the increase in the number of asylum seekers and the rising cost of rents.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing procurement process for the asylum accommodation and support contract for the north-east, Yorkshire and Humber region. We are confident of having a fully operational contract before the expiry of the current contract, with sufficient time to properly transition the services.”
In Scotland, contractor Serco has had to pause plans to evict 300 asylum seekers from properties after heavy criticism from the housing sector.
Serco leases many of the homes it provides to asylum seekers from housing associations.