Politics

Home Office plan to reduce asylum seeker hotel bill 'pushing refugees to homelessness'

“People are seeing 40, 50, 60 refugees turning up on their doorstep as homeless, and there’s not the housing to be able to cope with it”

asylum hotels

Home secretary Suella Braverman. Image: Home Office/Flickr

Asylum hotels are an £8 million a day problem for the Home Office. But the government’s solution to reduce the bill is pushing refugees into homelessness and risks costing more in the long run, workers in the asylum system have told the Big Issue.

The Home Office hopes to reduce the number of asylum seekers in hotels by speeding up applications, making quicker decisions on whether to grant refugee status. 

But as a result of the influx, refugee organisations across Liverpool are now experiencing dozens of homeless refugees needing support, says Ewan Roberts of Asylum Link Merseyside – an organisation whose work includes supporting those in the hotels.

“People are seeing 40, 50, 60 people turning up on their doorstep as homeless, and there’s not the housing to be able to cope with it”,  Roberts told The Big Issue.

“People are crashing through the system at a rate of knots. They pop out the other end and get this seven day notice, and nobody can cope with it. Not the local authorities, not us.”

In a bid to clear the 175,000-strong asylum decision backlog by Christmas, the government is speeding through applications. While asylum seekers wait for a decision, the government provides accommodation – often in hotels.

Coupled with a reduced “move on” time for newly-recognised refugees to find accommodation – which is pushing refugees onto the streets – there is a recipe for mass homelessness, with the impacts already being seen.

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In one case illustrating the human toll of the newly-rapid process, a 23-year-old Afghan asylum seeker was kicked out of his accommodation with just three days’ notice.

He was able to find accommodation through One Roof Leicester, a charity providing homeless support. One Roof has seen referrals to its services triple amid the efforts to eliminate the backlog.

But Salma Ravat, the CEO of One Roof, said the sped-up process meant the support available for the man – who had been studying economics at university in Afghanistan – was ill-suited to helping him rebuild his life.

“If we’re processing people fast, we can’t support them to do the thing that’s best for them, which would allow them to build and maintain their lives.”

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One Roof has seen referrals to its services triple amid the efforts to eliminate the backlog, and not everybody can be offered housing, let alone suitable support.

“It’s not just about giving people residency status and saying ‘off you go’. If you don’t put a support package around that person, how are they going to manage?” she said.

The case also stands in contrast to life in the asylum system for the past few years. Ravat said her organisation had supported one asylum seeker who had been in the system for 20 years.

Ravat said the narrative that the backlog has been caused by new arrivals didn’t tally with her experience.

“If you’d dealt with all these existing asylum seekers, and supported them and rehoused them, you wouldn’t have this issue now.”

“It’s not just about giving people residency status and saying ‘off you go’. If you don’t put a support package around that person, how are they going to manage?”

Roberts said the haphazard solution would cause knock-on effects for others.

“Yes, it’s costing a lot of money,” he said. “But what about the other end? People are clattering through onto the DWP or local authorities, and you still have to spend all that money sorting emergency accommodation or housing. 

“It impacts on the voluntary sector – it still costs you, and it’s going to cost more because as the weather turns people are going to start to impact on the health service and the mental health services. There’s such a lack of foresight and vision.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.

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