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Monday, 17 December 2018

Local authorities 'contemplating withdrawal' from scheme for housing asylum seekers

Written by Hayden Smith

Councils may pull out of a scheme for housing asylum seekers after carrying a "disproportionate share" of the costs and pressures, a Commons report has warned.

MPs claimed local authorities have "lost confidence" in the system, with some weighing up whether to cease participating.

If their support was lost, the Government would find itself in "very severe difficulties", the Home Affairs Select Committee said.

Under the "dispersal" approach, town halls sign up voluntarily to house asylum seekers.

"The Government must therefore accept that 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 committee's report said.

"It has reached the point where local authorities are contemplating withdrawal."

The dispersal policy has previously attracted criticism.

A report from the same committee last year found applicants are concentrated in a small number of areas, placing pressure on local schools and healthcare services.

The latest assessment said the number of asylum seekers accommodated under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 at any one time has increased steadily since 2012.

It added: "The number of local authorities which have agreed to participate in dispersal has not, however, increased correspondingly."

The previous report recorded that, in September 2016, 121 authorities out of 453 (27%) had s95 asylum accommodation within their boundaries.

As of last month, 150 authorities had come forward offering to take part, with 129 participating, according to figures given to the committee.

The report also said the Home Office needs to show "greater urgency" about the "degrading conditions" in which vulnerable people are being housed.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald, a member of the Committee, said: "Two years on from the last Home Affairs report into asylum accommodation, there has been very little evidence of improvement.

"Local authorities have lost confidence in the system because the Government has failed to listen and respond to their concerns.

"Glasgow, Manchester, Wolverhampton and communities across the UK have done so much to support those seeking asylum in the UK.

"Yet, the Government has done little to support them."

The Home Office said it is engaging with areas that to date have not participated in asylum dispersal, with a view to negotiating agreements to do so.

The department also pointed out that many areas that do not currently participate in asylum dispersal make contributions to other schemes, such as refugee resettlement.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The UK has a long history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.

"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."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Owen Humphries / PA Wire.