Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration publishes review of the Home Office’s use of hotels as contingency asylum accommodation

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration publishes review of the Home Office’s use of hotels as contingency asylum accommodation

16 May 2022

On Thursday, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) released a new report examining the Home Office’s use of hotels as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers.

UK border signThe 110-page report is here and the Home Office’s official response is here.

The ICIBI report examines the delivery and assurance of the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts (AASC). As the report notes, the AASC contracts were introduced in 2019 and replaced the previous COMPASS contracts. Three providers were awarded AASC contracts for the provision of accommodation and transport for asylum seekers and their families, namely Clearsprings Ready Homes (CRH), Mears Group and Serco.

ICIBI inspectors visited 20% of each of the 3 AASC providers’ hotels between May and November 2021, and the inspection found overall that accommodation is being delivered broadly in line with the statement of requirements.

The report notes, however, that changes are needed to the AASC contracts due to the big increase in the Home Office’s use of hotels for asylum accommodation.

David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said: “By November 2021, 21,500 asylum seekers were being accommodated in 181 hotels, more than double the figures in May 2021. The cost of providing contingency asylum accommodation is eye-wateringly expensive and the AASC contracts have a combined value of more than £4.5 billion over 10 years. The landscape has changed considerably since these contracts were let, and they must be overhauled to account for the changed situation, maintaining oversight to ensure delivery and quality.”

Neal added: “[T]he Home Office needs to be realistic in setting targets and working with providers and stakeholders to agree what is achievable. At the start of this inspection we found little credible evidence that the target to end the use of hotels as asylum accommodation by May 2021 would be met; 12 months later nobody believes the revised target of March 2022 is achievable. A clear understanding of the situation which allows the creation of an effective strategy is an essential first step to tackling the huge challenges the Home Office faces.”

The increase in the use of hotels is due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boat. As the report highlights, the scale of the current asylum backlog is further adding to the pressures on the Home Office and its staff.

One senior manager in the Home Office’s Asylum Support Contracts (ASC) team told ICIBI inspectors that the last 18 months was the hardest of their career. Another senior manager said: “The system burns people out. Everyone is taken to the brink. You see very senior and very junior people fall. There are lots of conversations about that but there’s no change.”

David Neal commented: “[M]inisters need to make timely decisions to enable senior officials to effect change quickly. No one is clear whether the establishment of reception or processing centres will be sufficient to accommodate the current hotel population. However, it is crystal clear that the Home Office must speed up the asylum decision-making process to give people some certainty and move them through the system so they can get on with their lives. Whatever the solution, it cannot come quickly enough for the large number of people who have been living in hotels for many months.”

The pressures on the system mean asylum seekers are being kept in hotels for long periods. One senior accommodation provider manager told ICIBI inspectors that the mental health of asylum seekers was being negatively affected by the long stays. Food was also identified as a key concern, due to a lack of choice and quality, and people being unable to cook their own meals.

Children face particular issues living in hotels and ICIBI inspectors saw no evidence of activities specifically tailored to family groups or children. Stakeholders highlighted that hotel accommodation was unsuitable for children and could be potentially detrimental to their mental health in the longer term.

While not part of the AASC contracts, the report notes: “In August 2021, a young Afghan boy fell to his death from a ninth-floor window at a hotel in Sheffield. According to the Home Office, the hotel in which the boy was staying was not contingency asylum accommodation. It was described as a temporary hotel to accommodate Afghan families arriving under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) until a longer-term home became available for them through the local authority.”

The report makes seven recommendations to the Home Office, all of which were accepted. The Independent Chief Inspector said he was encouraged to hear that work is already under way to tackle the issues raised in the report.

In response to the report, Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at the Refugee Council, said: “For years we have highlighted the human cost of an asylum system beset with chronic delays, leading to an enormous backlog and people living in inadequate conditions that are detrimental to their wellbeing and ability to engage with the asylum system. We are therefore unsurprised that an independent watchdog has identified this issue, the impact it has on asylum accommodation, and is calling on Government to do better. Hotels are entirely unsuitable places to accommodate for long periods men, women and children who have fled war, conflict and violence and come to the UK in search of safety. The reason this is happening more and more is because of pressure of an asylum system that isn’t working properly. We urge Government to take heed of these important recommendations.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported yesterday that the ICIBI could be overhauled or possibly scrapped as part of a Government drive to reduce the number of quangos.

A review of the ICIBI’s remit and role will be carried out, as recommend by Wendy Williams in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

An unnamed Government source told The Telegraph: “Once the review is completed, ministers will be able to make a full and frank assessment of its future. Whether this is the right body, the right set-up – all that needs to be looked at. We must be the only country in the world that spends taxpayers’ money scrutinising what we’re doing instead of letting the opposition do it.”