The government's provision of asylum support accommodation has been subjected to scathing criticism - yet again - in a Home Affairs Select Committee report, published today.
The report makes criticisms of almost every aspect of the system of accommodation provided by the three national providers (Serco, G4S and Clearsprings) under the COMPASS contracts, which were recently extended until August 2019. These include criticisms of the burdens placed on regional authorities by the dispersal system, the lack of detail in some of the contract requirements, the failure of providers to provide sufficient information to residents, the inability of local authorities to enforce standards and the failure to meet the particular needs of vulnerable individuals.
However, perhaps the most striking findings are those in relation to the conditions of some of the accommodation itself, including in relation to vermin infestations, health & safety issues, cleanliness and furnishings & facilities. The conclusions are expressed in strong terms:
"It is clear that in too many cases Providers are placing people in accommodation that it is substandard, poorly maintained and, at times, unsafe. Some of this accommodation is a disgrace and it is shameful that some very vulnerable people have been placed in such conditions."
The report makes wide-ranging recommendations for the future, though, as it notes, the opportunity to make some of these improvements through contract renegotiations has been lost in the recent renewal of COMPASS. Many of the other proposals, however, do not need to await renegotiation and, in particular, the report encourages an improvement in awareness among asylum seekers and third sector organisations as to the existing complaint mechanisms and contract penalties. Indeed, the findings of the report clearly support the experience of many advisers who are regularly faced with clients in conditions that must at least be approaching the kind of high threshold required for claims for damages under the Human Rights Act 1998, as set out in Anufrijeva v Southwark  EWCA Civ 1403.
“The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace. We have come across too many examples of vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation, for example children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of healthcare for pregnant women, or inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. No one should be living in conditions like that.”