MPs report on shocking state of asylum housing

A committee of influential MPs has slammed the state of asylum accommodation in the UK as a ‘disgrace’ and ‘shameful’.

In a report, published today, the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) found that ‘major reforms’ are needed to the contact system under which private contractors provide housing to vulnerable people, including survivors of torture.

Freedom from Torture provided written evidence to the HASC inquiry last year and our Chief Executive, Susan Munroe, gave oral evidence to the Committee about the poor treatment of torture survivors by housing providers.

Amongst the problems identified by MPs today are infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs, unclean conditions and inadequate support for vulnerable people. The report cites the case of a torture survivor who experienced flashbacks to his detention and torture because of the presence of rats in his asylum accommodation.

The Committee also recognised that the current contract is failing with regards inspection and compliance, whereby housing providers undertake inspections into their own practices and the Home Office is not prepared to hold providers to account despite its own evidence of non-compliance. In today’s report the MPs say:

“Freedom from Torture drew our attention to the 2016 Home Office audit of asylum seeker accommodation in Middlesbrough. G4S inspections conducted by its subcontractor Jomast found urgent defects in 14% of properties, but the more recent Home Office inspection found urgent defects in 91% of properties.”

The report cites the case of a torture survivor who experienced flashbacks to his detention and torture because of the presence of rats in his asylum accommodation.

Commenting on the report, Chair of the Committee, Yvette Cooper MP, said:

“We have come across too many examples of vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation for example children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women, or inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. No one should be living in conditions like that.

“The Home Office needs to act urgently to raise standards, improve the inspection regime, deal with delays in asylum claim processing which are pushing the numbers up and ensure there is adequate funding.”

Lucy Gregg, Senior Policy Advisor at Freedom from Torture, said:

“We welcome today’s focus on the scandalous state of asylum accommodation and urge the Home Office to act on the committee’s call for major reforms to the system.

“Time and time again we see shocking examples of how suppliers of asylum housing are failing to meet their most basic obligations, forcing survivors of torture to live in inappropriate, poorly-maintained and unsafe accommodation.

“The Home Office must take the Committee’s demands to improve standards and monitoring seriously, ensuring that the contract with housing providers guarantees the wellbeing of extremely vulnerable people.”

For almost ten years, Liliane, a woman in her thirties, has been living in asylum accommodation in the UK amid delays and wrong decisions in her asylum case. She was forced to flee her country after being tortured by soldiers because of her work for an opposition political party.

Whilst receiving support from Freedom from Torture to help her come to terms with the abuse she was subjected to – which included multiple rapes, being beaten with metal rods and burned with cigarettes - Liliane has most recently been living with her two young children, in one room, in a shared house in South East London. The property, which is managed on behalf of the Home Office by one of the housing providers criticised in today’s report, is – amongst other things – infested with mice and cockroaches, has damp throughout, and has dirty threadbare carpets with no means of cleaning them.

Liliane said: “When you are in this situation for many years it makes you more stressed and more depressed. We have been in the same house for three years and it has never felt safe. There are mice droppings everywhere, there is mould on the walls and ceiling, and when it rains outside water can enter the house. The carpet in our room is filthy and I worry about my children playing on it.”

Liliane has recently been granted asylum by an immigration judge. She now hopes to be eligible to move into more suitable accommodation so she can carry on the process of rebuilding her life with her children.