The government should compel councils to accept asylum seekers if the voluntary system fails, a parliamentary inquiry has concluded.
MPs on the home affairs committee said Home Office contractors at present sent asylum seekers deemed destitute only to areas where councils were willing to permit hostels, putting an unfair burden on those authorities.
Its report Asylum Accommodation said councils should be offered greater funding and involvement in determining where people are placed under the six regional commercial and operational managers procuring asylum support services contracts, known as Compass.
“If local authorities still unreasonably refuse to become involved in providing asylum accommodation on a voluntary basis after the measures recommended have been in place for 12 months then the government should use its powers to require them to do so,” the report said, noting “the refusal of many local authorities to accept asylum accommodation is clearly putting pressure on those that do and the system as a whole”.
It cited evidence from Middlesbrough Council’s interim chief executive Tony Parkinson on how the Home Office’s “propensity to place families in low value housing in the north of England” placed “enormous strain on schools in already deprived areas”.
The report said the present policy had relieved pressure on the south-east but had instead led to “the clustering of asylum seekers in some of the most deprived parts of the country”.
Committee chair Yvette Cooper (Lab) said: “Even where the accommodation and support are of a good standard, it is still far too concentrated in the most deprived areas.
“It is completely unfair on those local authorities and communities that have signed up and are now taking many more people, when so many local authorities in more affluent areas are still doing nothing at all.”
David Simmonds (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, said: “Councils are clear that continuing to have voluntary participation in these schemes is the best approach to meeting the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in their communities, and ensuring these communities are fully prepared to welcome new arrivals.”
Cllr Simmonds said more than 200 local authorities had become dispersal areas and future government contracts should “address the challenges in securing accommodation in other local authority areas, particularly where there is limited availability and high cost housing”.
While many local authorities have failed to accept asylum seekers voluntarily, the report noted many councils had taken in refugees under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme. The committee noted greater government resources had been made available to councils in relation to that, and the programme had produced better results.
”The Syrian programme has been successful not just because of the additional resources, although they are an integral part, but also because local authorities have been consulted and engaged in the design of the scheme from very beginning,” it said.
Meanwhile, the committee criticised accommodation standards and said local authorities should take over inspection duties from the Home Office “along with the necessary resources to carry out this function effectively”.
Ms Cooper said: “The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We work closely with our contractors to ensure they provide accommodation that is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and adequately equipped and we conduct regular inspections to check that this is the case. We have also made significant improvements to the operation of the contracts including increasing the number of dispersal areas by more than a third.”