The most common form of accommodation is the initial accommodation centres and then privately owned flats and houses.
Conditions in initial accommodation centres
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. One of the centres, opened in 2017, provides self-catering accommodation with cooking facilities and vouchers for a local supermarket. This system has not been extended to other centres.
Rooms are generally lockable, but the fact of sharing with a stranger removes some of the benefit and practicality of this.
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. The Home Affairs select Committee received several reports of women feeling unsafe and made strong recommendations in this regard. It was also critical of the conditions for pregnant women and new born babies.
The initial accommodation is for a short stay (government advice is that it should usually be for 3-4 weeks). Asylum seekers are able to go outside at any time.
There has been an increase in the use of institutional accommodation including repurposed military barracks, which has resulted in media attention. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration announced an Inspection into the use of contingency accommodation and in March 2021 released some key findings following the team’s visit to both sites formerly used as military barracks. It reported issues in management and leadership, mental health problems among residents. People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit ‘isolation block’ which the Inspection considered unfit for habitation. It also found that residents who may have been children were also housed in the same block pending an age assessment. The environment at both sites was found to be impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation. Cleanliness at both sites was variable at best and cleaning was made difficult by the age of the buildings. Some areas were filthy. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration published its final report into the use of contingency accommodation in July 2021, with the assistance of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. The Inspector raised four main issues; Failure to adequately consult local stakeholders, the inadequate health screening of those to be placed in the accommodation, communication with residents of the camps and poor employment and data protection practice. The government’s responsefocused mainly on the need to set up the accommodation in haste and the improvements made since the sites were established. Criticism of large-scale contingency accommodation continued, including from the NGO sector.
Conditions in dispersed accommodation
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. In the north east of England in particular there have been difficulties caused by the new contractor failing to reach an agreement with a former sub-contractor around the provision of housing. The relevant Parliamentary Committee had paid much attention to this issue and questioned the government about arrangements. The BBC and Refugee Action also worked together to bring attention to the poor housing conditions in dispersed accommodation, culminating in a piece released in January 2022.
As there is no choice of accommodation, 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 accommodation provided by the Home Office deprives the new-born baby, and indeed other children in the family, of the opportunity to build a relationship with their father’.
The impact of living on Section 4 support is discussed in the section Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions.
The Guardian, Asylum seeker housing conditions under scrutiny at third ex-military site, 14 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/39n1f7m This report includes links to others and summarises concerns.
 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An inspection of the use of contingency asylum accommodation – key findings from site visits to Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3bBqLXz
 Reported in the local media including: The Chronicle, ‘Hundreds of North East asylum seekers could be forced out of their homes at the end of August’, 25 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2TWFjbI; Teesside Live, ‘Families will be forced to move from their homes as new housing provider takes over’, 2 September 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2NQYQH1.
 Home Affairs Committee, Asylum accommodation: replacing COMPASS: Government Response to the Committee’s Thirteenth Report of Session 2017–19, 8 March 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/38BM0Ey.