House of Commons Library

Policy on the dispersal of asylum seekers

Published Friday, April 29, 2016

A Westminster Hall debate on the motion that "this House has considered asylum seeker dispersal policy" will be held on Tuesday 3 May 2016 at 1130hrs. The Member in charge of this debate is Simon Danczuk.

Section 95 support

The policy of dispersal of those seeking asylum accommodation in the UK was introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The legislative intention was that by distribution across the country no one area would be overburdened by the obligation of supporting asylum seekers.

Under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, asylum seekers can apply for support while waiting for their claim (or appeal) to be considered. Support can be for accommodation and/or subsistence, according to their circumstances and on condition that they satisfy a destitution test. If provided, accommodation is offered in a dispersal area—ie away from London and the South East.

There are three providers of accommodation for asylum seekers: Serco, G4S and Clearsprings. Each has a COMPASS (Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services) contract awarded in 2012 and covering two regions. Information on these COMPASS contracts is available on the Contract Finder website.

How dispersal areas are identified

In answers to written questions in March 2015, the government confirmed the dispersal policy remains that which was first introduced in 2000 (a time when the UK was receiving record high numbers of asylum applications):

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what criteria are used for determining to which areas asylum seekers are dispersed.

James Brokenshire: The last Labour Government passed the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to alleviate the pressure on local authorities in London and the South East of England where most asylum seekers made their asylum claims.

The effect of the 1999 Act was to pass the support responsibility to the Home Office. Regional dispersal policy established by the then Home Secretary in 2000 provides that, as a general rule, asylum seekers should be accommodated in areas where there is a greater supply of suitable and cheaper accommodation.

Asylum seekers who need accommodation are housed across the UK according to an agreed ratio, based on various regional factors. The Home Office has voluntary agreements with 95 local authorities throughout the United Kingdom in accepting the dispersal of asylum seekers. As part of the regional dispersal policy established in 2000 an advisory cluster limit was set by the Home Office at 1 asylum seeker for every 200 of the settled population.[1]

A 2014 report by the National Audit Office provides some additional information about how dispersal areas are identified:

1.6 Dispersal accommodation is located in particular areas in the community where the local authority has agreed to take asylum seekers up to a defined cluster limit (defined as an assumption that there will be no more than one asylum seeker per 200 residents, based on the 2001 census figures for population). In some areas local authorities have agreed a variation to this arrangement with the Department. Not all local authorities currently participate. Dispersal arrangements are subject to ongoing monitoring and review by the Department.

1.7 Under the terms of the COMPASS contracts, contractors are required to consider a range of social cohesion, housing and community factors alongside cost when proposing properties to be used for dispersal accommodation for asylum seekers. These factors include:

  • the availability and concentration of accommodation;
  • the capacity of local health, education and other support services; and
  • the level of risk of increased social tension if the number of asylum seekers increases within a given area.

These factors are monitored by local authorities, who have the right to withdraw existing consent for specific properties to be used for asylum seeker accommodation or reject new proposals if there are any specific concerns, for example around community cohesion.[2]

In an answer to another Parliamentary Question the minister touched upon Home Office cooperation with local authorities:

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps she is taking to ensure that local authorities are properly informed and involved in decisions to distribute asylum seekers.

James Brokenshire: The Home Office maintains active partnerships with the local authorities that have volunteered to become dispersal areas across the UK and funds regional Strategic Migration Partnerships (SMPs) to plan the dispersal of asylum seekers across the region. The partnerships consider the impact on communities and local services so that adjustments can be made where appropriate. This ensures that community cohesion, social welfare and safety issues are properly considered.

SMPs act as a focal point allowing the sharing of expertise and vital information between the Home Office, its asylum accommodation providers, local government, health, education and the police, ensuring coordinated planning and leadership on asylum dispersion. They also consider other funded objectives such as initiatives in support of visa policy; modern slavery; immigration sanctions and improvement; vulnerable children (including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children) and adults; No Recourse to Public Funds policies of local government; EU migration and integration.

The Home Office, our housing contractors and the SMPs work closely with local authorities to ensure we can accommodate asylum seekers in appropriate accommodation.[3]

Number of dispersal areas

A Parliamentary Question answered in December 2015 confirmed that 99 local authorities are currently signed up to participate in the national dispersal arrangements.[4]

Local authorities volunteer to participate in the dispersal arrangements. The Home Secretary has some reserve powers to ensure that local authorities cooperate in the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, through sections 100 and 101 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. An answer to a recent Parliamentary Question confirmed that these powers have not been used though the minister did acknowledge that there was an issue:

The Department has not made any request to chief executives or leaders of local authorities in the UK for assistance under section 100 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The powers under that section have not been used to date.

However, over the past 12 months, the department has written to local authority leaders and chief executives in the North West, North East, Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and Scotland to seek further cooperation and voluntary participation in widening asylum seeker dispersal arrangement.

We will be writing to chief executives in Wales, the South East, South West and East of England to seek their cooperation.[5]

In his written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee the minister provided a list of all local authority areas in the UK which housed asylum seekers in dispersal accommodation in January 2016.[6]

Number of asylum seekers by local authority

The quarterly immigration statistics include information on the number of asylum seekers in receipt of dispersal accommodation. The most recent statistics available (published 25 February 2016) include the number of asylum seekers in receipt of section 95 support, by local authority, as at end of quarter: see in particular table ‘as_16_q’.

Uneven dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the UK

Several Members have sought to draw attention to the unequal spread of asylum seekers throughout the UK in recent months.[7]

The media has also reported on concerns raised by local authorities:

In its recent report The work of the Immigration Directorates[8] the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee identified a lack of fair and equal dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country:

50. Both G4S and Clearsprings told us that finding sufficient accommodation for asylum seekers in parts of the country is difficult, and this is clearly made more difficult by some local authorities being unwilling to take part in the dispersal system. Clearsprings, which holds the contract in parts of the country with the most expensive rents, made it clear that they would welcome more local authorities providing dispersal accommodation. The Home Office has said it wants more local authorities to take part. Asylum seekers should be dispersed throughout the country and therefore we recommend that more local authorities take part in the dispersal accommodation system and provide suitable accommodation for asylum seekers. Local authorities who have very few, and in many instances no, asylum seekers should be actively encouraged by Ministers to volunteer in the existing scheme. As for Middlesbrough, it is clear that there is disagreement about whether the number of asylum seekers has gone down since the one in 200 ratio of asylum seeker to local resident was breached. It is not clear who holds responsibility for allowing the one in 200 ratio to be breached, nor for making sure it is reduced.[9]

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

A Guardian article in December 2015 highlighted how in practice responsibility for UASC is shared among only a handful of councils.[10] Disproportionate numbers are looked after by Kent, Hillingdon and Croydon councils where major ports of entry are respectively Dover, Heathrow and Lunar House (the only place where people can make an in-country asylum application). It refers to research conducted at the University of Brighton which shows an ‘extremely uneven’ distribution of UASC in England.[11]

On 20 April 2016 James Brokenshire told the House of Lords EU Home Affairs sub-committee inquiry on unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) that the Immigration Bill 2015-16 would provide a statutory underpinning mechanism to ease pressures on local authorities by a more equitable dispersal of recently arrived UASC.[12] In light of the imminent local authority elections in May the minister identified July as the likely time for the formalisation of new dispersal arrangements.[13]

The Immigration Bill 2015-16 includes powers that would allow for the transfer of responsibility for migrant children between local authorities (as set out in clauses 71 – 75). These would apply also to children granted refugee status (this is to ensure that unaccompanied children who are brought to the UK under a proposed new resettlement scheme for unaccompanied children from conflict regions could also be transferred. The Government confirmed that it was considering establishing such a scheme in January 2016). Clauses 71-74 apply to local authorities in England; clause 75 allows for similar provisions to be made by regulations to apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

Debate packs are intended to provide a summary or overview of the issues being debated and identify any relevant briefings including press and parliamentary material. A more detailed briefing may be prepared for a Member on request to the Library.

 

[1]     PQ 226000, 6 March 2015

[2]     National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, 10 January 2014, HC 880 2013-14, paras 1.6-1.7

[3]     PQ 32107, 11 April 2016

[4]     PQ HL4217, 3 December 2015

[5]     PQ 29428, 2 March 2016

[6]     Letter from Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Immigration, to the Chair of the Committee, 11 March 2016

[7]     See, for example:

[8]     Home Affairs Committee, The work of the Immigration Directorates, 4 March 2016, HC 772 2015-16

[9]     Ibid, para 50

[10]    ‘How English councils are supporting unaccompanied child asylum seekers’, the Guardian, 4 December 2015

[11]    Jo Wilding and Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, Whose best interests?, 14 October 2015, page 10

[12]    Lords EU Home Affairs Sub‑Committee, Unaccompanied minors in the EU inquiry, 20 April 2016, Q.70

[13]    Ibid, Q.80

Commons Debate packs CDP-2016-0095

Authors: Ben Politowski; Terry McGuinness

Topics: Asylum, Immigration

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