MPs slam Home Office for “shameful” asylum housing

SRC Sept 2010  c. Jenny Wicks  ongoing use   0001  70
Serco is now responsible for accommodating asylum seekers in Scotland

Scottish Refugee Council welcomes today’s damning report from the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee showing that Home Office contracts with private companies to house vulnerable people seeking asylum have failed.

The COMPASS contracts, currently handled in Scotland by Serco, should be replaced with a completely new system once the present contracts expire in 2019.

The report, published today, describes the state of the properties in which asylum seekers were housed under the COMPASS contracts as “terrible” and “disgraceful” – with issues from vermin to sordid carpets and furniture.

The Home Office is currently designing the post-2019 system, and this should be based on what the committee recommends today.

Contracts were due to run out this year, but the UK Government announced it would extend them by two years, despite the poor track record that led to this inquiry.

The National Audit Office published a critical report on the contracts back in 2014, and the many problems with the services have continued.

Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer Graham O’Neill said:

“This report is a damning indictment and the Committee is right to describe this service as a disgrace – it has failed.

“This is a public service for people who really need it, who have come from trauma including war, torture, sexual violence or the loss of family members.

“It is desperately important that these people have a safe space to recover from what they have gone through.

“But the current model is not fit for purpose. The inspection regime does not work, and journalists and charities have been forced to do the job of the state in uncovering appalling housing conditions and treatment of vulnerable people.”

Scottish Refugee Council calls for future asylum housing to follow a person-centred approach, taking into account the complex and serious needs of people displaced from their homes and who have often undergone terrible journeys.

As the report says: “The wellbeing of the individual, particularly those who are most vulnerable, has to be at the heart of a reformed asylum system.”

The report also calls for devolved countries and local authorities to have far more input in decision making so they can plan and coordinate dispersal to best meet the needs of people seeking asylum.

Added O’Neill: “Scottish Refugee Council supports this call – we think there needs to be an agreement between UK and devolved governments to decentralise the dispersal and housing of people seeking asylum – and to make the servic accountable.

“That will help restore confidence in the system amongst local and devolved institutions, who were left out in the cold by the current contracts.

“These contracts were supposed to at least be money-savers – but in fact the true cost of these contracts is unclear – many expenses have unfairly been displaced to local authorities and services.

“We look forward to the National Audit Office revisiting the contracts and providing a realistic, transparent assessment of the costs involved so that this service may be sufficiently resourced.”