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Clearsprings: The Home Office’s Controversial Hotel Contractors

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Recent investigations, carried out by ITV and the Observer exposed serious cases of neglect and abuse in government accommodation which houses asylum seekers. As the claims brought to light urge the Home Office to investigate, the focus is being shifted towards the UK’s struggling asylum accommodation system and its private contractors. Clearsprings are not the only company that has profited despite a track record of neglect and abuse.

The network of hotels involved contracted by the Home Office face allegations of intimidation, unsafe living conditions, and claims that staff are paid below the national living wage.

As these horifying claimes are brought to light, the focus is being shifted towards the Home Office’s struggling asylum accommodation system

Allegations also include sexual assault on residents, as women within the hotel say they feel exploited. One woman told the investigation anonymously that she had been sexually harassed.

‘Staff use the master key to enter my room and call the women unpleasant names. The unwelcome sexual behaviour and invasion of privacy makes me feel uncomfortable.’

Hands holding the words refugee and asylum
Those seeking asylum in the UK have faced abuse, even death. [Image: ACH]

The process of applying for asylum in the UK is extensive, and often time-consuming. Under the Immigration Asylum Act 1999, the Home Office has a statutory obligation to provide temporary accommodation, transport and financial support to those seeking asylum whilst they wait for approval to be granted.

Nine asylum seekers died in hotels run by the Home Office private contractors

Clearsprings Ready Homes are one of the largest accommodation providers to the Home Office. According to their website, they have been providing short and long-term accommodation to central and local government for over 14 years.

Last year, data received through a freedom of information request revealed nine asylum seekers died in hotels run by Home Office private contractors. It is not commonly known how or where the deaths occurred, but it highlights the need for more transparency within the struggling system.

The private contractors highlighted in the report, over low pay allegations, include hotels run by Stay Belvedere Hotels LTD (SBHL). They are responsible for ensuring temporary accommodation across London through a subcontract by Clearsprings Ready Homes- a Home Office deal worth around £1bn.

Clearsprings has denied recent allegations of harassment against their staff, claiming they are ‘committed to ensuring all staff are paid fairly, at least in accordance with the national minimum wage requirements. In addition to their pay, many staff receive accommodation and other amenities and benefits.’

Their website also refers to providing a wide range of services customers can depend on. But elements of their reputation tell a different story.

Squalid living conditions provided by the company were also revealed in 2019 by the Guardian. People seeking asylum were revealed to be crammed into ‘living’ quarters overrun with cockroaches, rats and mice.

Clearsprings Ready Homes’ contract includes the operation of the Napier barracks. This controversial housing near Kent has repeatedly been deemed not suitable for accommodation due to the dire conditions. Still, hundreds of people have been placed there since last September under strict conditions in fear of a rapid spread of the disease.

Other reports from the Napier barracks include blocks with no heating or electricity, this caused many to live in freezing conditions and without drinking water.

Campaigners and lawyers have made multiple calls to close the barracks over the last six months and an independent investigation of the sites is currently underway.

Asylum seekers housed in Napier barracks moved to hotels
Asylum seekers housed in Napier Barracks have been subjected to overcrowding and inhumane conditions. [Image: The Independent]

Those seeking asylum in the UK are housed in temporary accommodation, such as hotels, are not in detention. Immigration removal centres are used to detain individuals who are under control for immigration administrative purposes such as overstayed visas, but are subject to prison-like conditions.

Another private contractor, Serco, landed a major deal with the Home Office to run two more immigration removal centres worth £200 million, despite various allegations of abuse.

It’s unfortunately in the interests of companies like Serco that receive lucrative contracts from the state to drive down costs to maximise profit

Pierre Makhlouf, Bail for Immigration Detainees

The firm has previously sparked controversy over allegations of sexual misconduct. A Channel 4 documentary exposed Serco-run Yarl’s Wood misconduct. Female detainees were heard being verbally abused as ‘beasties’ and ‘bitches’ by staff members.

Assistant director at Bail for Immigration Detainees, Pierre Makhlouf, described the current immigration system: ‘It is unfortunately in the interests of companies like Serco that receive lucrative contracts from the state to drive down costs to maximise profit.’

Although immigration removal centres are not for asylum accommodation, the situation highlights the lack of consideration rife in Home Office private outsourcing. The attempt to reduce costs has led to environments that generate the inevitable outcome of abuse, by applying the same template to all accommodations rather than fixing the problems that plague the system.

Asylum seekers have the right to be safeguarded against harm, yet the accommodation provided to them whilst they wait for asylum approval is potentially threatening their safety. As more cases of neglect, abuse and misconduct are exposed within the government’s third-party contractors, it seems money is sometimes more important than the wellbeing of those involved.

Vulnerable by a potential history of torture or trafficking prior to their arrival in the UK, those caught up in the allegations exposed by the current investigation are having their power stripped once again by what solicitors are describing as an ‘unlawful deprivation of liberty.’ 

[Header Image: gov.uk]