09 July 2004
A local authority has reacted angrily after the Home Office announced it was terminating its contract to house asylum seekers.
About 275 asylum seekers living in Southampton will be moved out of the city before September 10, when the council's contract with the National Asylum Support Service (Nass) expires.
Southampton is the first council to have a Nass contract terminated as ministers seek to reduce the number of homes sitting empty. According to a leaked Downing Street memo, the Nass is funding about 25,000 empty homes nationwide.
But Southampton City Council, which provides places for up to 500 asylum seekers in private accommodation, says it is being penalised because it signed a three-year contract with Nass. Most other councils insisted on five-year contracts.
According to a council spokesman, Southampton is frequently praised by the government for the way it deals with the issue. Since 2001, the council has housed more than 1,000 asylum seekers. At any time, numbers can vary between 150 and 450, according to Nass figures.
On July 1, during a visit to the city, Home Office minister Fiona MacTaggart highlighted the way the authority integrates asylum seekers. 'It seems scant reward for sticking our head above the parapet,' said the council spokesman.
Nass originally wanted to terminate its contract with Southampton on July 16 but agreed to extend it by two months. The council will also cease to be manager of the Southeast consortium of local authorities supporting asylum seekers.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it could not discuss contracts held with individual authorities.