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Asylum seeker accommodation in the UK is infamous for its poor conditions. But there’s one firm that stands out – Clearsprings.
Clearsprings, which manages asylum seeker accommodation in London, the South of England and Wales, is the subject of the most complaints filed to the Migrant Help hotline, a third-party charity contracted by the Home Office to handle complaints and offer advice to asylum seekers..
In June, the company forced some of the asylum seekers under its care in London to sleep on the street in protest after it crammed them into tiny hotel rooms without beds.
The company also ran Napier Barracks, a military base converted into housing for asylum seekers that made national headlines after the squalid conditions in the camp were exposed
Last month, Byline Times revealed that three-quarters of councils have logged complaints about the conditions of asylum seeker accommodation, including one council that logged seven cases of homes with collapsed ceilings alone.
Despite that, however, the Government has tabled plans to remove councils’ ability to investigate those complaints by exempting asylum seeker accommodation from HMO licensing rules, one of the primary ways authorities ensure homes with multiple occupants meet standards.
“Too often we see conditions inside asylum housing that would make your stomach turn,” Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action told Byline Times. “Clearsprings and the other housing firms are raking in huge profits from their contracts, which were won in a process in which the National Audit Office called the level of competition as ‘limited”.’
Unlike the two other publicly-traded companies that help run most asylum seeker accommodation in the UK however, Mears and Serco, Clearsprings is privately owned by one Graham Ian King.
Since 2019, the firm has posted profits of £42.7m and paid £37.9m in dividends to its owner, according to Companies House filings. £28m in those dividends were paid last year alone, most of which goes to King who maintains a 94% stake in the firm.
Despite taking home more of Britain’s foreign aid budget than Ghana, there’s precious little information on the Essex businessman or how he got so involved in running such a vital part of the UK’s asylum seeker support.
In the past, King ran a caravan park, a taxi firm and a teenage disco before eventually transitioning into running housing for vulnerable asylum seekers.
The first record of his company’s having any involvement in managing outsourced accommodation for migrants on a small scale was in 2000 when it was described as “profiteering” in the House of Lords.
Eventually, in 2012, King’s main firm Clearsprings saw a huge rise in prominence as it was awarded the contract by the government to run all asylum seeker housing in Wales and the South of England, worth tens of millions of pounds. It was awarded the same regions again when the contract was renewed in 2019.
Byline Times was also able to find out that King is a past donor to the Conservative Party.
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In 2001, a company King was listed as a director of, Thorney Bay Park, made a £3000 donation to the Conservative Party. In 2010, another company run by King, Pemican, made a further donation of £2000 to the Tories.
King was listed as a director of both Pemican and Thorney Bay Park at the time of both donations, though he has since left the roles.
King also had a close brush with controversy a few years ago. Byline Times found a registration on King’s Companies House page listing him as a LLP member for The Aquarius Film Company. He took on that role in 2003.
In 2015, two heads of the company, Terence Potter and Neil Williams-Denton, were jailed for a total of 14 years for fraud. The company had, according to prosecutors, taken advantage of a tax relief under the New Labour government that allowed those investing in UK film projects to claim back 40 per cent of the company’s losses from their PAYE tax.
Potter and Williams-Denton registered millions in fraudulent losses at the film company to allow themselves and investors to claim back the losses on their taxes, in a scam somewhat similar to the plot of ‘The Producers’.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by King himself. It is not clear in what way or how King was involved with the firm.
Clearsprings did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment for this article.