MPs to investigate outsourcing of asylum seeker housing

Housing

Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the announcement of an inquiry into the Home Office’s outsourcing of asylum seeker housing to private companies across the UK.

 A committee of MPs is to launch the inquiry following reports in The Times and the BBC of mistreatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow by housing provider Orchard and Shipman.

Labour MP Keith Vaz made the announcement at the end of his visit to asylum seekers in Glasgow last week, when he was accompanied by Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s asylum and immigration spokesman.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will call representatives from Orchard and Shipman and Serco, which subcontracts the service to the company, to give evidence to its inquiry.

The committee has previously investigated issues around the housing of asylum seekers in Middlesbrough and Cardiff following the ‘red doors’ and ‘coloured wristbands’ controversies.

Following his Glasgow visit, Mr Vaz is radically scaling up the Committee’s initial investigations to a full UK-wide inquiry.

The committee will start its work in June this year to complete a report before the Home Secretary Theresa May makes her decision later this year whether to extend these contracts into 2019. 

Mr Vaz, who chairs the committee, told the BBC he was concerned that the UK government was providing a better standard of care to those escaping the conflict in Syria than to those seeking asylum via the previously existing system.

“At the moment, we seem to have a two-tier system: an excellent system for the vulnerable persons who have come under the Syrian scheme and a second system that does not seem to be working.”

In 2012 the Home Office changed the way in which asylum seekers were housed in the UK. Agreements with local providers and councils in different areas of the country were replaced by contracts known collectively as the COMPASS, with three large private providers – G4S, Serco and Clearsprings Ready Home Ltd – who subcontract the work to smaller firms.

Mr Vaz said this arrangement would be the focus of the inquiry.

Graham O’Neill, Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer, said: "Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the announcement that the Committee will start a full inquiry into asylum accommodation issues and the Home Office’s outsourced COMPASS contracts.

“These persistent and serious allegations of mistreatment, poor quality housing as well as lack of proper oversight require to be properly addressed.

“This independent parliamentary and expert scrutiny offered from the Home Affairs Committee will help provide an opportunity for a thorough review and allow everyone who is interested in these issues, including the Home Office and the accommodation providers, to work out how the situation can be improved.

“Most importantly, an inquiry gives the opportunity for a thorough, independent, and public consideration of the future for providing this lifeline service of housing for women, men, and children seeking protection in the UK."

Scottish Refugee Council’s interest in this area follows the publication of our report into issues around asylum seeker housing in Scotland.