Reception centres, called initial accommodation, each accommodate around 200 people – fewer in Glasgow and Northern Ireland. These centres are the usual first accommodation for any asylum seeker who asks for support and is not immediately detained, apart from unaccompanied children. If a place cannot be found on the first night after claim, asylum seekers may be accommodated in an interim hostel in Croydon while accommodation is found, or in hotels in any region where the initial accommodation is full. Overcrowding can also be an issue as at least one initial accommodation centre has continued to accommodate more than the 200 people for which the property is given permission by the local authority.1 Accommodation in the initial accommodation centres is usually full board with no cash provided.
Recently, the short term use of bed and breakfast accommodation has been more frequent. The drawback is that people accommodated in a hotel, even if only for one or two nights, have limited or no access to many of the reception-related rights granted to asylum seekers, with reported cases of persons having only restricted access to accommodation. The consequence of such temporary ‘emergency’ accommodation is that it additionally delays their access to the support system and other welfare services to which they are entitled, as it may take a couple of days before they access advice and complete an application for asylum support.2 Asylum seekers should not stay in initial accommodation for any longer than 19 days, but there can be dispersal backlogs and it is common to find asylum seekers stuck in initial accommodation for over 3 weeks due to a lack of dispersal accommodation.3 The consequence of such backlogs are varied, but the recent accommodation report from the Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted its inadequacy for women, particularly pregnant women and new mothers. The lack of appropriately nutritious food was one example of this inadequacy.
If the asylum seeker qualifies for support, they are moved into smaller units, mainly flats and shared houses, in the same region, but as regions are large this may not be within travelling distance of their solicitor if they have one. Accommodation is in the North, Midlands and South West of England and in Wales and Scotland, not in the South or in London. Asylum seekers have no choice of location. If asylum seekers are not detained after screening there is no distinction in the initial accommodation based on the claim or its route.
In the initial accommodation centres, there is no guarantee that single people will be accommodated on single sex corridors; this is the practice in some centres but not in others. In one centre single sex corridors were introduced after a woman was followed into the showers and watched by a male neighbour.4 Rooms are usually shared with one other person, and beds may be bunk beds.5 In some initial accommodation centres the accommodation is set out in shared flats.
Showers and toilets are shared between six or seven people. They are designated for men or women by signs on the door but there is no security. The bathrooms were said to be dirty by women interviewed for the Refugee Council and Maternity Action research. There is a lack of women-only space, and no facilities for babies such as baby baths or access to boiling water for sterilising bottles. Women reported feeling unsafe.6
There are reports that some asylum seekers take only cash support and continue to 'sofa-hop' i.e. move from one person to another, staying on floors and in shelters, because they do not want to leave London. The Home Office may consider a request to be accommodated in London or the South East if the applicant is in receipt of therapeutic services from the Helen Bamber Foundation or the NGO Freedom from Torture.
Since the beginning of 2012, all accommodation for asylum seekers is managed by large private companies under contract to the Home Office, and in four out of the six regions sub-contracted to local companies. The assessment process for eligibility for the accommodation remains with the Home Office, which is ultimately responsible in law for the provision of accommodation. The companies remain responsible to the Home Office under the terms of their contracts to provide and manage the accommodation.
The contract between the Home Office and the private companies requires that families shall be housed in self-contained accommodation.7 In practice there is some use of hostel-type accommodation for families with small children, and some lone parent families are housed with unrelated families, though nuclear families are normally kept together.8 Accommodation frequently fails to meet the needs of supported persons, particularly those with children or mobility and health needs.9 Asylum accommodation has been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide security, respect for privacy and basic levels of hygiene and safety, particularly for women.10
The most common form of accommodation after the initial period in the initial accommodation centres is in privately owned flats and houses, managed by the companies contracted to the Home Office, or by their sub-contractors.
S.4 support can only be provided as a package including accommodation, in a location determined by the Home Office, and ‘facilities for accommodation’ i.e. the Azure card. Consequently the recipient cannot choose to receive financial support only (as they can with s.95) and continue to live with family members who are not included in the support application. This means that the family will be split, possibly over some distance, the person on s.4 having no cash with which to travel to visit.
- 1. National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, 2014 at http://bit.ly/1TB7uFx.
- 2. Information provided by Refugee Action.
- 3. Home Affairs Select Committee, Asylum Accommodation, January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lzBq9F.
- 4. Refugee Council and Maternity Action, When Maternity Doesn’t Matter, 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/1d692pA.
- 5. Ibid, for pregnant women who had to share a room and to sleep on top bunk.
- 6. Ibid, 30.
- 7. Home Office, Compass Project: Schedule 2, Accommodation and Transport, Statement of Requirements, B.8.
- 8. Evidence given to the Parliamentary Enquiry on Asylum Support for Children and Young People.
- 9. Evidence given to the Parliamentary Enquiry on Asylum Support for Children and Young People; Nina Lakhani, Asylum seeker houses 'unfit for children', The Independent, 20 November 2012, available at: http://ind.pn/1Sw1kos.
- 10. Christel Querton, I feel like as a woman I’m not welcome: a gender analysis of UK law, policy and practice, Asylum Aid, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1ChGbFh. National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, 2014 available at: http://bit.ly/1TB7uFx.