The contract to provide housing for people who are seeking refugee protection in the UK has opened for tender today and will decide the future of asylum accommodation for the next decade.

At £4 billion of public money, it is one of the UK Government’s largest contracts, and the value of the contract in Scotland is £500 million.

These public funds may once again go to private sector companies, with little or none of that money directed to support local government and the local communities affected.

A recent Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry highlighted widespread failures in the provision of asylum accommodation over the last two years, calling current provision a “disgrace” – despite safe and fit-for-purpose housing being so important to people who are seeking international protection.

Gary Christie, Head of Policy and Communications at Scottish Refugee Council said: “This contract allows huge multinational companies to make decisions about where people live and no one in the communities affected can do anything about it.

“The recent Westminster report included a range of recommendations to address these failings. Shockingly, none of these recommendations are included in the Government’s new tender document.”

“While private companies receive millions of pounds to provide accommodation, local authorities may once again receive nothing from the Home Office to provide the additional services that new members of a community need, including health services, schools and colleges, and legal support.”

“The current system of dispersal sees some of the poorest areas of the UK supporting the greatest number of new arrivals. For this to be sustainable we urgently need to see additional resources and finances directed to these communities.”

Local authorities are also left locked out of any oversight of the standard or quality of the accommodation provided.

The complaints system embedded in the contract appears to ensure that concerns raised by tenants or refugee rights organisations stay off the front pages rather than increasing independent accountability.

Often it has fallen to campaigners or journalists to spotlight serious problems with housing for people seeking safety in the UK – but permanent independent oversight would help to ensure safe and fair standards of housing.

It would also support real value for public money rather than lowest common denominator housing that doesn’t account for the needs of vulnerable and often traumatised people.

Gary Christie said: “Over the last four years we’ve witnessed private companies source the cheapest accommodation available for people in need.”

“We’ve seen no evidence of these companies making efforts to put services in place to give people a fair chance at a successful claim for refugee protection and support their integration into society.”

“The Home Office’s acquiescence in this demonstrates a clear lack of commitment from the UK Government to supporting refugee integration – putting them on a collision course with the Scottish Government’s policy of supporting integration from day one.”

“Without clear and constructive relationships between the Home Office and local authorities, and without adequate resourcing, local authorities may be hesitant to step forward or remain as areas for dispersal, despite a real desire to support and accommodate asylum seekers in their communities.”

“This is poor public policy from the UK Government, which seems to be listening to no one on this issue and disregarding all evidence and expertise.”

The Home Affairs Committee will host a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons on the report and response on Thursday 14th December.

Chris Pettigrew
Author: Chris Pettigrew