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75% of councils have logged complaints about the conditions of asylum seeker accommodation, Byline Times can reveal, as the Government tables plans to remove their ability to investigate those complaints.
In April, it was revealed that the Government planned to “legalise” ‘hazardous’ accommodation for asylum seekers by exempting refugee housing from licensing rules for homes of multiple occupations (HMOs).
HMO licences are one of the primary ways authorities ensure homes filled with large numbers of people they were not initially designed to fit aren’t a fire risk, dangerously overcrowded, damp, mouldy, or otherwise unsafe.
The plans are currently subject to a legal challenge by three families seeking asylum in the UK.
But now Byline Times can reveal that the vast majority of local authorities that housed significant numbers of asylum seekers have been forced to take complaints and do inspections at asylum seeker housing that was riddled with rats or had collapsed ceilings.
An FOI request seen by this newspaper found that 39 of the 52 councils that answered had logged serious complaints about the standards of housing for asylum seekers in the borough in the last five years.
Across the thousands of complaints and inspections logged, hundreds concerned severe infestations or disrepair like damp and mould, and hundreds more covered the HMO licensing inspections the Government is set to halt for asylum seekers’ housing.
Bradford Council alone recorded seven cases of collapsed ceilings at asylum seeker accommodation in their area.
While not every council broke down the nature of the complaints, at least 16 councils were asked for help with infestations of rats, mice or bugs, while almost half of those that responded – 18 – had to deal with serious disrepair.
South Tyneside Council, which covers Tyneside towns like Jarrow and South Shields, averaged a complaint in regards to asylum seeker accommodation once every four days in the five years since January 2018.
It was followed by the likes of Liverpool City Council and the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which each recorded hundreds of complaints in that time.
“Too many people we support live in horrendous and often dangerous housing,” said Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of charity Refugee Action.
“What this investigation found is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg because few people in the asylum system know they may be able to call their council when their home is crumbling.
“While people are left in decrepit houses the Government’s contractors who are responsible for these properties are raking in scandalous profits worth tens of millions of pounds.
“It’s time for change. Asylum accommodation must be provided on a not-for-profit basis and responsibility must be handed back to properly funded councils.”
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The latest revelations come after a Government report into mistreatment at the Brook House immigration centre published on Tuesday identified a “toxic culture” and numerous breaches of human rights laws.
That same day it was revealed that Home Secretary Suella Braverman had halted annual inspections of immigration detention centres such as Brook House last year after concerns about conditions were raised by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.
Earlier this year, news outlet OpenDemocracy reported that the Home Office helpline for asylum seekers had received 11,800 calls about asylum seeker accommodation, including 1,400 complaints relating to hotel accommodation.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to provide support for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.
“We expect our accommodation providers to provide a good service, which is why we speak to them about delivery and performance daily.
They added that the plan to remove HMO licensing requirements, initially for two years, would “not remove minimum accommodation standards” stressing that the Home Office has clear standards for asylum seeker accommodation and that asylum seekers have access to the 24/7 Migrant Help helpline and a formal complaints process.