03 March 2000
Councils that make direct agreements with private landlords outside their areas have been accused of failing to inform the authorities into whose jurisdiction they are transferring the asylum seekers.
The matter came to a head at last week's Local Government Association annual housing conference where John Ransford, the LGA's head of social affairs, warned that such agreements were against the association's guidelines and should be unnecessary now that local authority consortiums had been set up.
'We understand the pressure on London and the surrounding authorities to deal with the problem of housing people, but we would urge them to use the proper channels so that appropriate facilities can be provided in local communities,' he said.
Last week, 32 London boroughs wrote to Home Secretary Jack Straw to warn him that government grants will only partially cover the costs of keeping 60,000 asylum seekers in the capital.
The Home Office has provisionally allocated £175m for April–December 1999, but figures show this will leave the councils £10m out of pocket.
Newcastle upon Tyne City Council estimates there are between 700 and 800 asylum seekers in the city, but cannot be sure, as some were placed in residential homes by authorities bypassing the consortium's arrangements. 'Sometimes we only find out people are here after they've arrived,' said a spokeswoman.
Bournemouth has at least 300 asylum seekers living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, partly as a result of deals struck between other councils and local landlords. 'Our concern is knowing about people so that we have a chance of providing local support,' said Phil Hodges, head of policy and planning at Bournemouth social services.
Kent County Council, which has 3,500 asylum seekers housed in other areas, denies it is doing anything underhand.
'We use private landlords because the consortiums don't produce enough places,' said a Kent spokeswoman. 'We update social services departments in the areas where we make placements on a fortnightly basis and explain the accommodation that we intend to use.'
Kent says it has run out of accommodation. Last week it announced council tax bills will rise by £3 per household after the government refused to reimburse £1.7m of the £24.3m cost for asylum seekers in 1999/2000.