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Sun 5 December 2021

Crispin Blunt is being paid £117 an-hour by the company, months after it was accused of paying its staff less than the minimum wage

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has accepted a £15,000 a-year role working for a firm that provides accommodation to asylum seekers, which has been hit by a scandal in recent months, Byline Times can reveal.

The MPs’ register of interests shows that Blunt, who represents Reigate, is now a member of the ‘Oversight Board’ for Stay Belvedere Hotels Limited. The position began on 1 July and requires 128 hours a year, in addition to his work as an MP. This is equivalent to £117.20 an hour, or roughly £940 a day.

ITV and The Observer revealed in February that numerous Stay Belvedere employees had accused the firm of paying staff less than the minimum wage. Evidence seen by the publications showed that some staff had been paid as little as £5.60 an hour, considerably less than the minimum wage at the time – £8.70 an hour. It was alleged that staff were forced to work for long hours, with some exceeding 70 hours every week.Employees who complained were warned that they could easily be replaced. 

One asylum seeker claimed that they had been sexually harassed in a Stay Belvedere hotel. “Staff use the master key to enter my room and call the women unpleasant names. The unwelcome sexual behaviour and invasion of privacy makes me feel uncomfortable,” she said.

At the time of the stories,Stay Belvedere was responsible for providing temporary accommodation for asylum seekers in some 50 hotels and hostels in London and the south of England. Contracts for the servicing of these hotels were awarded to Clearsprings, which in turn sub-contracted them to Stay Belvedere.

In the wake of these stories, Stay Belvedere and Clearsprings launched investigations into the allegations. “Stay Belvedere Hotels is committed to ensuring all of its staff are paid fairly for their work, and at least in accordance with the national minimum wage requirements,” the firm said, while Clearsprings added that, “We are investigating the issues raised… and will put in place any actions required to address any issues raised as part of that investigation.”

“This is a clear conflict of interests – our MPs should be holding these companies accountable over the inadequate services they’ve been providing for vulnerable people, not taking pay packets from them,”Minnie Rahman, interim Chief Executive of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told Byline Time

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Byline Times asked Blunt and Stay Belvedere whether the ‘Oversight Board’ was created in response to the allegations about the company. We also asked for more information on Blunt’s role at the company, and what research had been undertaken by both Blunt and Stay Belvedere to ascertain that these practices are no longer taking place. We did not receive a response.

While most people seeking asylum are housed in the community, the number being held in temporary hotel accommodation has increased 10-fold since March 2020. According to the Refugee Council, at the end of February 2021 approximately 8,700 people were living in more than 90 hotels across the UK. 

“People who’ve sought safety here need decent, stable accommodation and support to rebuild their lives,” Rahman told Byline Times. “It makes no practical, moral or financial sense to house people in hotels, and it’s alarming that we’re seeing such an increase in this type of accommodation. Government should be treating people as part of our communities, and resourcing local authorities properly to ensure people have the safety, support and stability we all need.”

People living in hotel accommodation are provided with pre-packed meals and an £8 a week allowance. A Home Office decision not to give thousands of asylum seekers money to make calls to friends and family during the pandemic was ruled unlawful by the high court in October 2021. Children living in hotel accommodation, meanwhile, risk missing out on school. 

Clearsprings has also been accused of running accommodation in the Napier Barracks, Kent, that left people vulnerable to the Coronavirus. In January, 178 asylum seekers staying in the barracks tested positive for COVID-19 – nearly half of the 400 people held in the site. Clearsprings has previously declined to comment.

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