There has been considerable interest in the accommodation and support that is provided to asylum seekers. I am committed to ensuring that destitute asylum seekers are accommodated in safe, secure and suitable accommodation and that they are treated with dignity. I have listened carefully to hon. Members and non-governmental organisations’ concerns about the arrangements, including their observations and criticisms of the current contractual arrangements.
The current contractual arrangements expire in 2017, with an option to extend them for a further two years. I have considered carefully whether to extend these contracts and weighed up a range of factors, including the value for money they offer the taxpayer and the improvements that have been made to the standard of accommodation when compared to those achieved under previous arrangements. I have decided to extend the contracts until 2019. However, I recognise that there are improvements that can be made. Therefore I have taken this opportunity to make changes and additional investment to address the concerns that have been raised and improve the services that are provided. These changes will build upon the improvements that we have already made this year in response to the concerns of hon. Members and others.
First I have increased the amount of money that the Home Office pays for the provision of welfare officers and staff property management. This is in direct response to feedback that more attention is needed to ensure that asylum seekers receive the welfare support they need and are able to raise any concerns they have with the accommodation providers. It will also ensure that property standards continue to be closely managed and further improved; and that sufficient suitable property is available. The money will only be available for the employment of additional resources engaged directly on these customer-focused activities.
I have also agreed that the Department should work with providers on developing different contractual terms to ensure that there is sufficient initial accommodation available and thereby further reduce the need to use contingency arrangements, such as hotels, in the future. I am pleased to report that the use of contingency accommodation is already much reduced but these changes will add in resilience, further reduce the numbers and keep them down.
Finally I have introduced a new higher price band for any increases in the number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation, this will allow the providers to further increase their property portfolios if required and widen the areas in which they operate. This will reduce the need to continually increase the number of asylum seekers accommodated in certain communities. This follows work to increase the number of local authority areas that participate in the asylum dispersal scheme, which I am pleased to report has increased the number of participating areas by over one third in the past 18 months.
The Department will continue to monitor the providers closely to ensure that they comply with the requirements of the contract and work closely with non-government organisations and service users to respond to feedback and continue to improve the system.
My officials have started work on putting in place new arrangements for when these contracts expire in 2019. This work is at an early stage and we are engaging with a range of stakeholders to consider options for the future arrangements.