As said above the most common form of accommodation is the initial accommodation centres and then privately owned flats and houses.
In the centres food is provided at fixed times. There is little choice but sometimes people who make their needs known will be given food that is more suitable for them. Pregnant women have said how difficult it is to cope with fixed mealtimes, especially if they are not well during their pregnancy.1
Lighting is not always sufficient, since it may in some centres be turned off. As far as our information goes, rooms are generally lockable, but the fact of sharing with a stranger removes some of the benefit and practicality of this.
The initial accommodation is for a short stay (intended to be 19 days maximum, though it can be longer). Asylum seekers are able to go outside at any time.
Dispersed accommodation, in flats and houses among the general population, is where asylum seekers stay for most of the time while their claim is being decided. Basic furniture and cooking equipment is provided. Although nuclear families are housed together, two single parent families may be placed in one house together, and this has caused significant problems.2 Additionally, the Asylum Accommodation report found that in cases of a shortage of dispersal accommodation ‘temporary dispersal accommodation’ may be used; usually hotels or hostels. Some people housed in this accommodation do not move n for months; in April 2016 there were 1,500 people living in this type of accommodation.
Although UKVI’s contract terms with the accommodation providers say that houses and flats should be in good repair, there are frequent reports of slow or inadequate repairs and insanitary conditions.3 Financial pressures to obtain large stocks of low cost accommodation quickly to meet the COMPASS contract4 in 2012 appeared to have had an adverse impact on the quality of the accommodation procured, and there seems to have been inadequate maintenance capacity to compensate for this.5 Problems include pest infestations, lack of heating or hot water, windows and doors that cannot be locked, lack of basic amenities including a cooker, a shower, a washing machine and a sink and a general lack of cleanliness.6 The Asylum Accommodation report of January 2017 gives quite a lot of attention to this issue and makes several recommendations in its regard, including relating to complaints. They conclude that:
‘Although standards have improved since 2012, the poor condition of a significant minority of properties leads us to conclude that the current compliance regime is not fit for purpose. Those it is meant to help safeguard have little confidence in it and we do not find that it acts as an adequate deterrent to poor compliance. Home Office inspections are infrequent and the low number of penalties appear at odds with the persistent criticisms of the standard of asylum accommodation.’7
The report recommends much closer liaison with local authorities and on some issues, for example inspection, it recommends handing over responsibility to local authorities.
As discussed in the section on Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions, there is no choice of accommodation, and families may be separated if they are not claiming asylum together. For instance where the father of a child is not an asylum seeker or is not part of the same asylum claim as the mother, mothers are placed in accommodation without their partners. This accommodation is, in most cases, in a different city, and sometimes in a different region, from where the child’s father lives. Being close to the child’s father is not normally accepted as a reason to be in a particular location. ‘The strict rule that no-one else is allowed to stay overnight in Home Office provided accommodation deprives the new-born baby, and indeed other children in the family, of the opportunity to build a relationship with their father’.8
The impact of living on s.4 support is discussed in the section Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions above.
- 1. Refugee Council and Maternity Action, When Maternity Doesn’t Matter, 2013.
- 2. See Refugee Council, Submission to the parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1fmr9Jp.
- 3. Ibid; National Audit Office, 2014.
- 4. The allocation to private companies of asylum accommodation provision see section on the Provision of Information.
- 5. National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1Lk1A9a.
- 6. Home Affairs Select Committee, Asylum Seventh Report of Session 2013-14, HC 71.
- 7. Home Affairs Select Committee, Asylum Accommodation, January 2017.
- 8. Refugee Council, Submission to the parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, 2012.