The United Kingdom has a proud history of providing an asylum system that protects and respects the fundamental rights of individuals seeking refuge from persecution. This system includes supporting asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while their asylum claim is assessed. I am grateful for the attention members of this House, including the Home Affairs Committee, have given to this matter.
I have always been clear about this Government’s commitment to ensuring service users are provided with safe, secure and suitable accommodation and are treated with dignity and respect. I have listened to the concerns of local authorities and have reinforced my commitment to working in partnership with them in this area. I am also mindful of this Government’s commitment to provide value for money for the taxpayer. Today I am pleased to inform the House that we have procured contracts for asylum accommodation and support to deliver on each of these commitments.
New contractual arrangements will be put in place in September of this year.
Initial Accommodation, Dispersed Accommodation, Transport and associated Support Services will be managed as integrated services on a regional basis.
• Clearsprings Ready Homes has been awarded the contracts in the South of England and Wales;
• Mears Group has been awarded the contracts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North East, Yorkshire and Humber region; and
• Serco has been awarded the contracts in the North West of England, and the Midlands and East of England regions.
Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Assistance services will be integrated into a single, nationally operated end-to-end service; the contract for these services has been awarded to Migrant Help.
The contracts were designed after extensive engagement with local government, non-governmental organisations and potential providers. The contracts offer a number of improvements on the current arrangements to make them more sustainable and include changes to improve the customer journey and conditions for service users, addressing many of the recommendations in the Home Affairs Committee’s reports on asylum accommodation. In particular, the contracts will:
• Provide assistance to asylum seekers to apply for support and throughout their time in the accommodation and support system.
• Require accommodation providers to develop close working relationships with local authorities, liaise and consult with local authorities on the location of properties and share appropriate information with them.
• Require providers to establish working relationships with the voluntary sector and local community based support organisations and networks in order that they can signpost SUs to local services.
• Set clear requirements for the standards of the accommodation that meet the standards used for social housing across the UK.
• Require providers to have proactive maintenance plans and to regularly inspect and report on the findings of the inspections of their accommodation.
• Provide service users with a single point of contact, independent from accommodation providers and the Home Office, to report issues with their accommodation and to provide advice in relation to their support throughout the whole process.
• Set clear timescales within which repairs must be made; with a clear escalation process for service users.
• Enhance the approach to safeguarding through a range of measures including improved health screening and support in registering with a GP, improved safeguarding training and awareness of staff, the provision of more adapted rooms for service users with specific needs, and the provision of face-to-face advice and support for those who need it.
• Ensure that service users receive clear induction materials to help them settle into their Initial Accommodation and Dispersed Accommodation in local areas. This will seek to ensure a better understanding of the support that is being provided as well as how to navigate services in local communities.
• Support service users into mainstream services if they are granted asylum or to return to their home country if are refused.
• Gather feedback from service users about their experience of accommodation and support to monitor provider performance and improve the services that are provided.
Following the award of the contracts today, the Home Office will work closely with the providers to mobilise the contracts and transition services users to the new arrangements. We will communicate directly with our services users and stakeholders to ensure they are aware of the changes and how they will affect them.
We will be working extremely closely with local authorities to ensure a smooth transition and will be involving them ever more closely in the operation of the new contracts as they go live.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords