Ministers failing to fix 'vermin-infested' housing for asylum seekers, say MPs
Ministers are still not doing enough to tackle the "degrading conditions" that vulnerable asylum seekers are housed in, a powerful committee of MPs has warned.
The Home Office is preparing to dole out £4bn-worth of contracts next year to replace the current regime for housing people seeking refugee status.
The services have been run by the outsourcing firms G4S, Serco and Clearsprings since 2012.
But MPs warn that councils are at risk of pulling out of the system because of a lack of support by the Home Office, and say the current system of checks is still not up to scratch despite a series of warnings.
The Home Affairs Committee says a "failed" inspection regime has led to cases of those seeking asylum being housed in "completely unacceptable conditions".
"Vulnerable people, including pregnant women, torture survivors and individuals suffering from PTSD, have been housed in badly maintained, damp and vermin infested properties," the MPs warn.
Ministers have, the report details, "done little" to ensure that companies providing housing have met their contractual obligations.
They warn that cash-strapped local authorities are currently being expected to pick up a "disproportionately large" share of asylum seekers housed under the Home Office's current voluntary "dispersal" system.
The MPs want councils to be given beefed-up powers to fine providers and carry out their own inspections.
“It has reached the point where local authorities are contemplating withdrawal," the Committee says.
SNP MP Stuart McDonald, who sits on the Home Affairs Committee, said: "In the final weeks before contracts for asylum accommodation worth billions of pounds are agreed, the government must ensure they provide for a long-term, workable partnership with local authorities.
"The local authorities who step up and continue the UK’s proud tradition of providing asylum must not be placed at a financial disadvantage because of it. Equally, the responsibility must be shared more widely, and distributed between more authorities, to correct the unfairness of the current arrangements.
"We must remember that this is fundamentally about providing safe accommodation to individuals fleeing desperate circumstances. On too many occasions the quality of housing provided has fallen far below what is acceptable.
"The new asylum accommodation contract must be the beginning of comprehensive reforms that bring an end to the constant examples of mouldy, damp, vermin infested conditions that asylum seekers experience now."
'SAFE AND SECURE'
A Home Office spokesperson said the Government was "committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered".
They added: "We also monitor contractors and their accommodation closely and take action – including financial penalties – where issues are not addressed within certain timescales.
"We continue to work closely with local authorities on asylum dispersal and have committed to comprehensive engagement with the Local Government Association and local authority chief executives to review the process."