Destitute and disabled asylum seekers homeless

The High Court has ruled that the Home Office is leaving destitute asylum seekers homeless in breach of the law due to its failure to monitor the operations of private firms who are contracted to manage asylum accommodation.

Justice Robin Knowles, in a ruling handed down on Monday morning found that the five claimants in the case, all asylum seekers, considered by the Home Office itself, to be ‘highly vulnerable’ and eligible for housing support had been left homeless for prolonged periods of time.

The court heard that in one case, a severely disabled man was forced to stay on friends’ sofas and at some points sleep on the streets near the renal clinic he had to attend for kidney dialysis because the government failed to move him into suitable accommodation.

The Home Office had assessed him as needing level access accommodation and accepted that this should be close to his dialysis clinic, yet it took nine months and three applications to the court before this was eventually provided.

Justice Knowles ruled that the Home Office had failed to monitor the provision of accommodation to disabled migrants in breach of the law, and discriminated unlawfully against the man by subjecting him to unfavourable treatment because of something arising from his disability.

He said that the evidence showed that the needs of disabled people were ‘insufficiently shared, and those needs are insufficiently addressed within the system that is being used”.

On a broader level, the judge described an ‘absence of monitoring’ by the Home Office of the performance of the private companies it contracts to manage asylum housing.

The department’s current asylum housing contract, which started in September last year, is worth £4bn over 10 years.

The claimants’ cases showed that the monitoring arrangements that were in place ‘either did not happen or do not work’ said Justice Knowles.

The court also found there was an ‘unsuitable readiness’ by the Home Office to assume the claimants were at fault for not being in accommodation, and a broader inclination to ‘reject challenge far more often than to acknowledge failings’.

Whilst the delays highlighted in the case took place before the coronavirus outbreak, the judge said the pandemic would have added to the practical challenges facing the Home Office and asylum seekers, which he said ‘highlights further still the importance of monitoring’.

One of the claimants, said she had been ‘left hanging on’ by  the Home Office while waiting to be picked up by the contractors to be taken to accommodation, at that each time there was a different reason why the pick up did not happen.

“Eventually I had to wait and not move from the pick up point, and yet I was still not picked up.  The Home Office failed to listen to what I was saying, choosing to blame me for contractors failings”.  In the light of the judgement she added: “The judge has made clear that this is wrong and the Home Office should have listened to me”.

Partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, Polly Glyn who represented one of the claimants, said the judgement highlighted the Home Office’s ‘failure to effectively monitor’ their contracts with private companies.

She added: “I hope that as a result of this judgement there is in future a more constructive approach from the secretary of state to ensure that the asylum support system wins confidence and respect”.

Chief executive of Refugee Action, Stephen Hale, said the ‘botched’ changeover of contracts at the end of last year had “contributed significantly to an accommodation crisis in which people and children were left destitute for long periods of time”.

He continued: “Britain is better than this.  It’s high time ministers took responsibility for the serious flaws in the asylum system and took long overdue action to make it fair and effective”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government takes seriously its legal obligations under the Immigration and Asylum Act to provide support including accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute and to failed asylum seekers who have a barrier to their departure from the UK and who would otherwise be destitute”.

“We are fixing our broken asylum system to make it firm and fair. We will seek to stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes”.

“We will consider the judgement carefully, including whether or not to further appeal”.