Politics

Barges and military bases more expensive than hotels for asylum seekers: 'Another bad policy'

Controversial use of sites like Bibby Stockholm and Wethersfield base to accommodate asylum seekers will cost taxpayer £46m more than using hotels

Asylum seekers on the Wethersfield base allegedly tried to take their own lives over poor conditions. Image: Nicola David, One Life To Live

The UK government’s use of barges and military bases to house asylum seekers, introduced to reduce the costs of hotels, is costing more than hotels and housing fewer people than expected.

Asylum seekers are being housed in a former RAF base at Wethersfield and the Bibby Stockholm barge. Its initial estimates were that this would be £94m cheaper than hotels. But a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), published today (20 March), has found they will in fact be £46m more expensive than hotels.

On top of this, the sites are housing fewer asylum seekers than planned. The Home Office had expected the Bibby Stockholm and Wethersfield base to be accommodating a total of 1,875 people by the end of January 2024. Instead they were accommodating just 897, a shortfall of more than 50%.

“This is another alarming example of bad policies being implemented badly at huge financial and human cost. Instead of considering better value and more appropriate alternatives, the government is intent on housing people seeking asylum in unsuitable accommodation costing over a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to deliver,” said Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council.

“The reality is that there would be no need to spend exorbitant sums of money on housing people in barges, military bases or hotels if cases were dealt with in a timely manner.“ 

Concerns have also been raised over the safety of asylum seekers living in the “alternative accommodation”.

A former resident of the Bibby Stockholm told the Big Issue how internet on the barge was turned off in the wake of the suspected suicide of fellow migrant Leonard Farruku. In an interview, he detailed freezing conditions onboard, with limited access to medical care.

At Wethersfield, asylum seekers were reported to have set themselves on fire over poor conditions.

Future “large sites” plans include former student accommodation in Huddersfield.

“The Home Office has made progress in reducing the use of hotels for asylum accommodation. Yet the pace at which the government pursued its plans led to increased risks, and it now expects large sites to cost more than using hotel accommodation,” Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said.  

“The Home Office continued this programme despite repeated external and internal assessments that it could not be delivered as planned. Its plan to reset the large sites programme makes sense, and the Home Office should reflect on lessons learned from establishing its large sites programme at speed and improve coordination with central and local government given wider housing pressures.” 

The Home Office has been raiding the foreign aid budget to pay for asylum accommodation, with around 80% of the £2.3bn spent on hotels in 2022 coming from the overseas aid budget. It has warned that the bill for accommodation could hit £11bn.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election
Keir Starmer during the 2024 general election campaign
Democracy

Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy
King's speech

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy

This is the 'most disproportionate parliament in history'. Has the time come for electoral reform?
Electoral reform

This is the 'most disproportionate parliament in history'. Has the time come for electoral reform?

'Pull your finger out': Can Keir Starmer really deliver change for those crying out for it?
Politics

'Pull your finger out': Can Keir Starmer really deliver change for those crying out for it?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives