The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of providing asylum, and many local authorities and communities across the country have a long and continuing history of playing their part. The provision of accommodation is essential to asylum support. When it fails, vulnerable people and local communities are let down.
We published a detailed report on asylum accommodation in January 2017. In that report, we warned of the need for local authorities to be involved in developing and overseeing the replacement to the COMPASS contracts for providing asylum accommodation. We highlighted the failures of the inspection and compliance regimes to deal with properties left in a substandard, unsanitary or unsafe condition. And we warned of the pressures of clustering and uneven dispersal, and of the inequity within the system that was placing intense pressure on those local authorities and communities which had volunteered to support asylum seekers.
The procurement of the replacement to COMPASS began formally in November 2017. A second procurement exercise had to be issued in May 2018, because no compliant bids had been received in two regions.
We have returned to the subject of asylum accommodation due to concerns raised in recent months about the Government’s handling of the process to replace COMPASS. This report focuses upon three main issues: the contracts and the strategic relationship between the Government and local authorities; the standards of accommodation provided for asylum seekers; and the question of fairness in the dispersal process.
Nearly two years after our previous report, very little has improved and mistrust by local authorities of central government has deepened.
The Government’s handling of the replacement for COMPASS has led dispersal authorities to consider withdrawal from participation in the dispersal scheme. We reiterate our belief that local authorities should be closely involved in developing the replacement to COMPASS and have a genuine partnership role in making decisions under the new contracts and overseeing their implementation. The Government must act now to reset its relationship with local authorities on asylum accommodation, and as a first step it should consult local authorities on the full details of the proposed contracts before they are finalised.
We are hugely disappointed that the Government has not met the Committee’s previous recommendations on improving the standards of accommodation. The Department has a duty of care and must show a greater urgency about the degrading conditions in which very vulnerable people are being housed under its contracts. We repeat our recommendation that Government should transfer inspection duties to local authorities, along with the necessary resources and the ability to impose sanctions. We are alarmed that there continues to be systemic mistrust affecting engagement between the Home Office, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The Government’s dispersal policy risks undermining the support and consent of local communities, many of which have a long history of welcoming those in need of sanctuary. It is not unreasonable for authorities who have, in many cases, supported dispersal for the best part of two decades and have carried a disproportionate share of the unfunded costs and pressures, to request more equitable treatment. The Government must urgently reconsider the operation of the dispersal policy and provide dispersal authorities with dedicated funding to better manage dispersal and the related impact on services. Essentially, local authorities should have joint decision-making powers so that their refusal of provider requests for asylum accommodation are only overturned in exceptional circumstances.
The next few weeks present a vital opportunity for the Government to make the provision of asylum accommodation work better for asylum seekers, dispersal authorities, providers, the communities housing asylum accommodation and other stakeholders. To succeed the Government must realise its recent commitment to understand those authorities’ concerns better and provide clear evidence of improved funding support for the full range of impacts they are required to address.
The Government can waste no time in taking steps to build dispersal authorities’ confidence in the Government’s commitment to develop an equitable, strategic partnership with its local partners.
Published: 17 December 2018