24 May 23

A council is pleading with the government to think again about proposals to suspend the need for an HMO licence for properties to be occupied by people seeking asylum.

A new Housing Standards (Refugees and Asylum Seekers) Bill coming to Parliament today will reduce council oversight of HMOs and – according to a protest statement from a London council – increase the risk of overcrowding and lower standards of living conditions.

Waltham Forest council says the government should take immediate action to protect people seeking asylum who are being forced to live in conditions that are “completely unacceptable and inhumane.”

The council claims many people seeking asylum are already living in cramped hotel rooms, with many having been there for more than 18 months. Contingency hotels are not regulated like other settings that accommodate children and there is no safeguarding framework to ensure people, especially those who are extremely vulnerable, are properly protected.

And the council adds that when people are moved by the Home Office it is often to equally unsuitable alternative accommodation. 

The council has now written to the Home Office asking it to carry out a risk assessment at HMOs and take urgent steps to ensure families with children do not remain in accommodation in a mixed environment with single males. It has also requested that the government produces clear guidelines for all those involved in looking after and housing people seeking asylum.

Council leader Grace Williams says: “Day after day we learn of truly awful cases of abuse and assault of refugees in Home Office accommodation. Vulnerable people, especially children, are not getting the level of care needed to keep them safe, as we have seen with the deeply concerning sexual assault cases.

“Even the Home Office itself has now recognised that proper assessments would help to reduce the risk of inappropriate placements, and yet it has not made this a requirement of contractors. Instead, the most vulnerable continue to be exposed to danger in the one place they should feel most safe: their accommodation.

“Waltham Forest has a long and proud history of welcoming those fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary. It is completely unacceptable to see the conditions these vulnerable people are being forced to live in when they should experience some basic comfort and security. Many do not have access to basic amenities like cooking facilities, areas to play or homework space. They are not permitted to work in the UK and are only given £8 a week to live on. Many are feeling desperate and isolated.

“We know that we can do so much better than confining vulnerable people in dingy hotel rooms or grimy flats for months on end with poor quality food and conditions that have a particularly negative impact on children, along with a lack of suitable space for them to study and thrive.”

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