Forcing asylum seekers into shared hotel rooms to cut costs is unsafe, Sunak warned in scathing report

Rishi Sunak’s plan to cut hotel use for asylum seekers by making them share rooms puts the safety of vulnerable people at risk, MPs have warned in a scathing report.

The cross-party group said the compromises being made to slash the £8m-a-week hotel bill were “alarming” – warning that the Home Office had failed to show it had considered the trauma some may have faced, or questions of safety, before forcing people together.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also accused the government of having no “credible” plan to end the use of asylum hotels – despite immigration minister Robert Jenrick boasting about an “exit” strategy just days ago.

The damning report also warned that the big push to clear the backlog of legacy asylum cases risked “more flawed decisions” and could create a new backlog in the courts as decisions were challenged.

It comes as:

  • Councillors said local authorities may have to house migrants in the same hotels the government claimed it would no longer use

  • MPs warned there will still be a backlog of around 84,000 new claims even if legacy cases are resolved by the end of 2023

  • The government scrambled to bring to the UK thousands of Afghans trapped in Pakistan after Islamabad issued a deportation deadline

The government is believed to have begun flights to bring thousands of Afghan refugees already granted sanctuary in the UK but stuck in Pakistan hotels to Britain. Islamabad has told them they must leave before 1 November – warning those without visas they could face arrest within days.

Mr Sunak decided no Afghans should arrive in the UK without sorting their own accommodation – but The Independent revealed last week that the government was forced to reverse that decision after a legal challenge, forcing a last-minute scramble to arrange flights.

The new influx is expected to put added pressure on scarce accommodation, as the system struggles to cope with the huge backlog of asylum cases.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has vowed to close asylum hotels (PA)
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has vowed to close asylum hotels (PA)

Mr Jenrick said earlier this week that the government had created “thousands of additional beds” by forcing people to share hotel rooms – as he revealed that the 400 hotels used to house migrants will be cut by 50 over the next three months.

But the cross-party group of MPs said they were “concerned” the Home Office “does not have a robust process in place to make sure sharing arrangements will be safe” – and warned that “without proper safeguards, there could be serious consequences”.

The PAC chairwoman, Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, said the “compromises being made by the Home Office to meet its commitments [to clear the backlog] are alarming, and some could have grave consequences”.

Emma Birks, campaigns manager at Asylum Matters, said the government had created a “physical and mental health crisis”, saying traumatised people were being “crammed together in hotels and other forms of temporary accommodation – children and young people sharing rooms with unknown adults”.

Ms Birks added: “Hotels should be closed. People seeking asylum should be accommodated within our communities and allowed to work, rather than warehoused in temporary accommodation sites.”

Steve Smith, chief executive of the Care4Calais refugee charity, said: “Packing asylum seekers, many of whom have experienced maltreatment like torture and modern slavery, into rooms like sardines with strangers of different nationalities, is causing great mental strain to asylum seekers on a daily basis.”

Crowne Plaza hotel used to house asylum seekers near Heathrow (AFP/Getty)
Crowne Plaza hotel used to house asylum seekers near Heathrow (AFP/Getty)

The PAC report also accused the department of lacking a “credible plan” to end the use of hotels – saying that a target of finding 500 new beds every week in an effort to reduce reliance on hotels had not been met, with just 48 new beds a week on average in the year to April.

Despite Mr Jenrick’s announcement that 50 hotels would see their central government contracts cut, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that some councils may end up having to house migrants in those very same hotels.

“If not those hotels, then where?” Shaun Davies, LGA chairman told the BBC. “That’s the irony in this situation, that one part of the system might boast that they’re doing relatively well but actually, that’s shunting the issue and the cost to local taxpayers.”

Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, said the Tories’ “failed attempts to fix its broken asylum system are now up in lights – they have no credible plan for ending the use of hotels”.

He added: “This report shows no confidence in ministers meeting their own targets to clear the record asylum backlog, because they don’t have a serious plan for delivery.”

Refugees from Afghanistan, who were placed in a Leeds hotel (Getty)
Refugees from Afghanistan, who were placed in a Leeds hotel (Getty)

Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said the government “has never had a real plan to deal with the asylum system they broke and instead of coming up with workable solutions, they’re only making it worse”.

SNP MP Angela Crawley had written to home secretary Suella Braverman to warn of “unsafe” accommodation. “The home secretary’s incompetence and complete mismanagement of her department is a disgrace,” she said.

Mr Sunak pledged to clear by the end of 2023 the backlog of older cases which had been in the asylum system as of the end of June last year. By the end of August 2023, the asylum backlog of legacy cases had fallen to around 55,000 cases.

But the PAC report said the Home Office’s own analysis suggests that even if the backlog is cleared by the end of the year, there will still be around 84,000 asylum claims in the system made after June 2022.

The cross-party committee also claimed that the department was introducing “poorly designed questionnaires” – suggesting that it risked people in genuine need not having their application properly considered.

It warned of increased court action and said: “People seeking refuge may just be passed from one backlog in the Home Office to another backlog elsewhere in the system.”

British Red Cross had predicted that more than 50,000 refugees in the UK could become homeless by the end of the year, with many already living on the streets because of changes in government support.

Mark Davies of the Refugee Council said: “We are seeing a homelessness crisis developing with newly recognised refugees being given as little as seven days before being evicted from accommodation. Being given refugee status in the UK shouldn’t be a ticket to homelessness with the cost being passed on to local councils.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the government was “working to end the unacceptable use of hotels by moving asylum seekers into alternative, cheaper accommodation and clearing the legacy backlog”.

They added: “We have taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing whilst maintaining the integrity of the system. This includes simplifying guidance, streamlining processes and introducing shorter, focused interviews.”