Asylum Support Contracts Examined in Two New Reports
On Friday 3 July, Asylum Matters alongside Refugee Action and 40 other refugee support organisations released a report examining the failures of the asylum accommodation and support system.
The 23-page long report is entitled ‘Wake Up Call: How Government Contracts Fail People Seeking Asylum’, and explores last September’s replacement of the COMPASS contracts for accommodation and support for asylum seekers.
The transition from the COMPASS contracts to seven similar regional contracts for accommodation and transport plus a national helpline and support service (AIRE- Advice, Issue, Reporting and Eligibility) caused considerable disruption. Asylum seekers began to encounter ‘unacceptable and entirely avoidable’ destitution, chronic delays when attempting to access advice, and chaotic moves in and between asylum accommodation.
The report examines the transition in detail, assessing what went wrong and pinpointing the steps that must be taken to ensure that those seeking asylum are not put at risk. The key recommendation is as follows:
‘In order to mend the system, the Home Office needs to revisit the problems inherent in the asylum support and accommodation provision, problems which are explored in this report. This can only be achieved through an open and accountable performance management regime, designed to assess whether services are genuinely meeting the needs of people seeking asylum.
It will require enhanced support and changed ways of working, and a rebalancing of the relationship between the Home Office, local authorities, providers, and the voluntary and community sector so that people are successfully supported to live with dignity whilst seeking asylum in the UK.’
The report examines the transition in detail, assessing what went wrong and pinpointing the steps that must be taken to ensure that those seeking asylum are not put at risk.
This is followed by a number of other recommendations, such as engaging collaboratively with people who have direct experience of the asylum process in order to improve the current system, and committing to the regular publication of detailed performance management information on both the AASC and AIRE contracts.
The document was published on the same day that the National Audit Office (NAO) released their report into last September’s replacement of the COMPASS contracts, entitled ‘Asylum accommodation and support’.
The NAO report also draws up an extensive list of recommendations, many of which reflect those put forward in the Asylum Matters report. For example, the NAO urges the Home Office to publish more information about the service’s performance, cost and service improvement plans, echoing Asylum Matters’ call for regular publication of detailed performance management information.
According to the NAO, the estimated total value of the new contracts- which run from 2019 to 2029- stands at £4.0bn. As of March 2020, there were approximately 48,000 asylum seekers living in accommodation under the new contracts, and the estimated cost per month for each accommodated asylum seeker stands at £560, a 28% increase from the previous COMPASS service.
The NAO report also draws up an extensive list of recommendations, many of which reflect those put forward in the Asylum Matters report.
A significant part of the NAO report’s remit is to assess whether or not the Home Office is getting value for money now that the COMPASS contracts have been replaced by more costly contracts.
According to the NAO, the report ‘finds that despite asylum accommodation and support contracts being replaced with less disruption than last time, it is not clear whether the new, more costly contracts will be value for money, with some providers initially failing to meet Home Office standards. This has left some supported asylum seekers facing waits for longer-term accommodation and specialist advice.’
Paul Hook, Director of Asylum Matters, had this to say:
‘The issues highlighted by the NAO today will come as no surprise to many of those living in asylum accommodation, or those who support them. These contracts have been plagued by systemic problems since their inception, resulting in a chronic lack of transparency and poor accommodation standards.’