Government "Lack Of Coordination" Has Led To "Chaotic" Refugee Rehousing Schemes
The Local Government Association has claimed there is "no mechanism in place" to check where people have been placed (Alamy)
Support workers tasked with implementing the government's plans for rehousing refugees have accused the government of a "lack of coordination" resulting in a system that is "chaotic" and putting local services under pressure.
Central government and local authorities are working to rehouse people who are fleeing the war in Ukraine with volunteer households in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. A separate resettlement scheme for people arriving from Afghanistan after the Taliban overthrew the local government in summer 2021 is also still running.
In addition, the Home Office and external contractors are working to secure housing for asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel in small boats, and have been placed in hotels and temporary accommodation centres.
But the government is facing accusations that a lack of co-ordination on the schemes, has posed serious challenges, including issues around resource in areas where more than one scheme is operating concurrently.
Last month reports emerged of overcrowding and bad conditions at the Manston asylum processing centre in Kent as a result of a high number of people arriving in small boats, who were then not being discharged within the required 24 hours. Some people were believed to have been held at the facility for more than a month.
A former Home Office insider believed the department rushed to get people out of Manston and into the community in the wake of the overcrowding scandal, and that as a result, the usual processes to find suitable accommodation for people were no longer working as they should.
They told PoliticsHome they suspected MPs and local authorities were not being properly informed before hotels are assigned to provide accommodation for asylum seekers, and that some of the relevant safeguarding practices were not being implemented.
An organisation working closely with local government across all three schemes told PoliticsHome there is “no mechanism in place” to check whether locations being selected to house asylum seekers also have other accommodations being used for Afghan refugees, or a significant number of UK households undertaking the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
They called for ministers to make sure that they are not “concentrating” hotel use in certain places while other areas of the country might have better availability.
Those close to the projects have been eager to stress that local authorities want to help find accommodation for asylum seekers, but that some areas are being disproportionately put under pressure by circumstances.
“One of the key issues is the lack of coordination with different schemes for resettlement of refugees, such as for Afghans and Ukrainians," a spokesperson at the Local Government Association said.
“There is currently no mechanism in place to check whether the area where the Home Office is placing asylum seekers already has other hotels being used for other schemes.
“There is also the additional challenge of many different parts of government securing hotels for different purposes.”
The spokesperson said that it is “vital” that government also takes into account the individual needs of local areas, such as whether there is already a high number of people being placed in temporary accommodation.
“We have long been calling for much improved coordination from government to check it is not concentrating hotel use in particular areas, which can cause concerns from local residents and pressure on local services," they said.
“We also need to be mindful of other pressures. For example in some areas, some hotels will be used as emergency bed and breakfast accommodation for people with other housing needs. This is why it is vital that government works closely with councils to take into account every pressure in a local area before placing people in that area.”
Last month leaders in Kent, which is disproportionately affected by being the area where thousands of asylum seekers have arrived into the UK, accused the government of an “unsustainable and unacceptable” response to the ongoing migrant crisis, and demanded the Home Office stop using their area as “an easy fix”.
In a letter to the Home Office, local leaders noted that while Kent “makes up just three per cent of our country’s geographic space”, it is “continually called upon to meet national challenges and we do so willingly”.
“It is time to utilise the remaining 97 per cent of the country to relieve the burden on Kent," they added.
One charity worker who is closely involved with refugee schemes felt the familiar accounts were indicative of a "chaotic" system.
“We speak with local authorities and they are very concerned with how things are being progressed," they said.
“Many of them want to support refugees and they’re playing an important part in the resettlement, but because it is so chaotic there are different plans.
"There is nobody who is really coordinating.”
Last month PoliticsHome reported that ministers were initially unable to say who is in charge of supporting Ukrainian refugees in the UK following Lord Harrington's September resignation from his role as refugees minister.
The Tory peer oversaw the rollout of the Homes for Ukraine scheme when it was introduced in March after Putin's invasion of Ukraine. While MP Felicity Buchan has since been appointed to work with councils, hosts and sponsors on the Ukraine scheme, there is no longer a dedicated refugees minister.
A Home Office spokesperson vowed to reduce the use of hotels to house asylum seekers after a record number of people arriving in the UK had strained the asylum system.
“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6mn a day," they said.
"The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.
“We have consulted with local authorities and other partners in relation to a redesign of the immigration accommodation system which, when implemented, will incorporate a holistic approach to housing asylum seekers and resettled refugees.”
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