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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Accommodation for thousands of asylum seekers 'not fit for purpose', report finds

Written by Margaret Davis

More than two-fifths of the accommodation for asylum seekers in England and Wales is not fit for purpose, a report has found.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) said that in the 22 months to January 31 this year, only a quarter (24%) of 8,313 properties inspected were found to comply with standards.

Another 3,567 (43%) were "not fit for purpose" or classed as "urgent", meaning contractors had to take action within one working day and make a permanent repair within a week.

The report, that was handed to the Home Office in July and published on Tuesday, detailed accounts of properties being dirty, infested with vermin and having problems with damp.

In one flat, the ventilation was so bad that a three-year-old boy began suffering health issues, while a mother and baby unit for seven women with children under the age of two had "blocked drains, an infestation of rodents, damp and mould".

Charities interviewed by the inspectors also raised concerns about accommodation being unsuitable, for example "those suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, survivors of torture, and victims of human trafficking, who were required to share rooms with strangers or were placed in accommodation where men could easily access female areas".

There were also "young people with high levels of trauma placed in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) with older men who had alcohol and drug abuse problems".

In other cases, asylum seekers were told not to touch fixtures to the extent that one new mother had to wait a month for someone to assemble a cot for her new baby, while others waited two weeks for a light bulb to be changed.

The report also found that the Home Office did not know how many pregnant women were in asylum accommodation because the "information is not held in a readily reportable format by the Home Office or its accommodation providers".

It said: "An overall grip on the numbers and distribution of pregnant and post-partum women within the asylum accommodation system is not a 'nice to have', but essential to a proper understanding of whether the present policies and practices are meeting the needs of this particularly vulnerable group, especially in relation to the availability and continuity of medical care."

The accommodation is provided by three private contractors covering six region across England and Wales. New contracts begin in September 2019.

ICIBI David Bolt (pictured) said: "For several reasons, not least the difficulty of extracting evidence from the Home Office, this inspection proved more challenging than most. My report is likely to please no one. It is clear from the Home Office's response to the draft report that this topic touches a nerve.

"It considers my criticisms unfair and believes its efforts have not been recognised. Meanwhile, I suspect that the many non-government organisations [NGOs] and other stakeholders engaged with asylum accommodation, and those living in it, will feel that the report has not gone far enough in challenging the standards of accommodation and support provided.

"Discussions with the Home Office, providers, NGOs and asylum seekers about particular properties showed just how difficult it was to agree on what constituted 'an acceptable standard' of accommodation, and equally difficult for the parties to remain objective and to trust the intentions and actions of the other.

"The overriding impression from this inspection was of many individuals - from the Home Office, the providers, NGOs and voluntary groups, statutory services and local authorities - up and down the UK, working hard to do their best for those in asylum accommodation, but often with quite different perspectives and priorities."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Whilst this report covers a small sample of the 12,000 properties for asylum seekers, the Government is committed to improving the service in the areas the Inspector has highlighted.

"Our comprehensive action plan will support customers in raising issues with their accommodation and ensure vulnerable people receive a more tailored service.

"In addition, we have restructured our routine inspections so that our approach to managing the contracts and accommodation standards is more consistent nationally."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Home Office.

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