Problems highlighted following replacement of COMPASS contracts in September 2019
New reports by refugee support organisations and the National Audit Office examine changes to the asylum accommodation and support system
06 July 2020
Asylum Matters together with Refugee Action and forty other refugee support organisations released a new report on Friday looking at the asylum accommodation and support system.
You can read the 23-page report here.
It was released on the same day that the National Audit Office (NAO) released a report on the Government's replacement of the COMPASS contracts for accommodation and support for asylum seekers. COMPASS was replaced with seven similar regional contracts in September 2019.
The 58-page NAO report can be read here.
The Asylum Matters/Refugee Action report notes: "Towards the end of 2019, the asylum accommodation and support system was almost fatally disrupted by the transition from one set of government contracts to another.
"People seeking asylum began to experience unacceptable and entirely avoidable destitution. There were chronic delays in accessing advice, chaotic moves in and between substandard asylum accommodation and inadequate help for people newly granted refugee status to move forward from the asylum process."
Asylum Matters and Refugee Action say their report "exposes a system characterised by substandard performance, fragility, an inability to withstand change and a tendency to lurch from crisis to crisis."
According to Asylum Matters, many of the problems found with the asylum accommodation and support system are also reflected in the NAO report.
The NAO states that its 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."
The NAO report concludes: "It is too early in the life of these contracts for us to reach a definitive value-for-money assessment of the [Home Office] Department's current asylum accommodation and support service. We can, however, judge the actions taken to date, as well as the foundations laid for the future of the service. The Department aimed to deliver an improved service that would be sustainable at a reasonable price, meet people's needs and can be flexed to respond to changing demand.
"Against these objectives, the Department is paying more to providers after finding that COMPASS was under-priced and negotiating improvements to the service. Accommodation providers are now beginning to meet service standards, but the AIRE service failed to meet asylum seekers' needs in its initial months and, despite some improvements, has not yet delivered consistently acceptable performance. Also, the Department faces challenges in adapting services to changing demand and in delivering its plan to redistribute people across the country. To date, the Department has shown that it has learned from the COMPASS contract and has laid the foundations for a better service. The Department now needs to address the challenges we identify, to deliver value for money over the life of these contracts."
Paul Hook, Director of Asylum Matters, said: "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.
"Lessons must be learned and acted upon – the Home Office cannot just return to business as usual. We have grave concerns that unless action is finally taken as we emerge out of lockdown, familiar problems will recur and the asylum system will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis."
Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: "The NAO report is a must read for Home Office Ministers and officials. It is also a must act. The lessons from these troubled contracts must be applied, and fast.
"Organisations such as Refugee Action stepped up to support thousands of people who were unable to access housing, financial support or advice as a result of the transition to these troubled contracts.
"Today we're helping people affected by similar failures in the asylum system during the Covid-19 pandemic. Home Office Ministers must act fast to reform the asylum system and ensure people who have already been through so much do not suffer further from poverty, poor accommodation and homelessness."
A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: "The UK has a long and proud record of providing protection to those who need it. The health and wellbeing of those seeking protection has and always will be the priority, and we will continue to provide support to those that need it.
"The NAO is clear in this report that the Home Office is paying a realistic price for service provider contracts and has learnt the lessons from previous arrangements. The Home Office continues to work closely with service providers to ensure our asylum system is providing the necessary support to those who genuinely need it."
The Home Office on Friday published a brief factsheet on asylum accommodation, applications and interviews available here.