The Home Office is forcing some contractors to book hotels of “at least a minimum of three stars” to house small-boat migrants as costs soared to £8 million a day.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, said she was “very concerned about hotels” and called their use “unacceptable”, telling Parliament this week: “It is totally unacceptable that too many towns and cities around the country now house the 45,000 asylum seekers who are in hotels… it is not right that the British taxpayer is forking out the cost.”
The most recent contract issued by Mrs Braverman’s department, seen by The Telegraph, lists “mandatory requirements” for all hotels booked, stating: “The location of the accommodation will be carried out at locations close to amenities and transport networks. Contracted venues should be at least a minimum of three stars.”
The Home Office has not disclosed how many hotels have been booked under the contract, which began in February, and said it was also using a separate agreement that had no star requirement.
Mrs Braverman has not disclosed the specifications during numerous debates on the issue in the House of Commons, where MPs have challenged the use of hotels in towns and seaside resorts.
A Home Office spokesman said that the vast majority of hotels used to house asylum seekers did not have a minimum star requirement and that the contract with the three star requirement was a “contingency contract used minimally”.
He added that the use of hotels was a temporary solution.
Conservative grandee Sir John Hayes said small-boat migrants should “expect a much more basic level of provision” than three, four or five-star hotels.
“My constituents wouldn’t expect any illegal immigrant to be housed in a place they couldn’t afford to stay in themselves,” he said.
“We need to provide safe and clean accommodation but it should be basic – three-star is well above the level taxpayers would expect to be funding. In truth, we’ve got to move these people out of hotels altogether.”
Ministers have vowed to reduce costs by doubling up hotel rooms and converting barges and military bases into asylum accommodation.
“It’s pretty obvious that the Home Office has completely failed to get a grip on the use of the hotels,” they added.
“The Home Secretary’s rhetoric does not match the reality – she says she’s got a grip on this but the situation is out of control.”
When Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh accused the Government of “wasting public money” with delayed attempts to convert RAF Scampton into asylum accommodation on Monday, Mrs Braverman said: “Ultimately, it is not right that we continue to house tens of thousands of migrants in hotels, in towns and cities across the country. That is why our work to roll out large sites is moving swiftly, and we propose to move asylum seekers on to them as soon as possible.”
A live contract seen by The Telegraph lists extensive requirements for asylum-seeker accommodation, and shows that higher standards are imposed for resettled Afghan refugees and unaccompanied children.
“The buyer’s [Home Office’s] forecasts indicate that our accommodation portfolio is going to come under significantly more pressure as asylum seekers will continue to illegally enter the country in small boats,” read instructions issued to Australian firm Corporate Travel Management.
“To meet demand and fulfil our statutory obligations across asylum and resettlement schemes, the buyer is currently reliant upon the growing use of bridging accommodation to provide temporary accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees prior to their asylum decision being made/settled accommodation being sourced.”
The 34-page document lists requirements for safety checks, including fire and Legionella assessments, as well as specifications for food provision, support and security.
Several parts relating to costs, budget guidance and payment from the Government were redacted, citing “commercial interests”.
The contract, which will run until February 2025, is separate to a wider asylum support framework that has no star requirement for hotels.
That agreement, signed in 2019, was drafted before hotels became routinely used to house small-boat migrants, and under the expectation they would live in houses, flats or hostels.
On Tuesday, the Home Office’s annual report showed that the bill for asylum hotels had risen to £8 million a day, as safety issues and legal challenges hamper ministers’ ambitions to accommodate migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge and military bases.
The report said: “We must take action to address the unacceptable costs of housing migrants in hotels … the minister for immigration has set out the measures we are taking to correct the injustice of the current situation.”
It claimed military bases would be “scaled up over the coming months”, but a legal challenge brought by local councils will be heard at the High Court in October.
Three ‘critical’ risks
The Home Office listed three “critical” risks related to hotels, including suicides and self-harm by migrants, safety threats to unaccompanied children and “financial consequences and severe reputational damage” from a failing accommodation system.
Steve Smith MBE, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said: “Some politicians may seek to demonise asylum seekers in hotels for political ends, but the fact is the UK Government is solely responsible for the use of asylum hotels.
“The number of hotels being used to accommodate asylum seekers, and the associated costs, started to increase at the point where the Government slowed down the processing of asylum claims.
“No one, especially the refugees that we work with, wants to use hotels to accommodate asylum seekers. They want to be part of the community and contribute to our economy and society.”
The Refugee Action charity said that despite the standards set in the document, many asylum seekers, including children, were “forced to live in grotty buildings” with crowded rooms, mould and “inedible” food.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It would be more compassionate, just and cost-effective if ministers prioritised clearing the backlog of asylum claims and housed people in communities so they can get on with rebuilding their lives.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The vast majority of hotels used to house asylum seekers do not have a minimum star requirement and we remain committed to ending the use of expensive hotels. That is why we are moving people into alternative, cheaper accommodation, doubling up in hotel rooms, and clearing the legacy backlog.
“Through the Illegal Migration Act, this Government will also go further by ensuring that anyone arriving in the UK illegally is detained and swiftly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”