UK has 5,000 empty hotel beds for asylum seekers despite huge backlog

Latest figures show 175,000 people await a decision about whether they will be granted refugee status

The UK government aims to clear the backlog of older asylum cases, but has been warned these could be replaced with thousands of new claims. PA
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About 5,000 hotel beds are kept permanently empty by the UK for asylum seekers, as a huge backlog of claims builds up, a parliamentary report has found.

MPs on the House of Commons public accounts committee said the Home Office was “maximising the use of hotels” by making more asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision share rooms.

The latest figures show there is a backlog of 175,000 people awaiting a decision about whether they will be granted refugee status in the country.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged that his government would, by the end of this year, clear the backlog of older cases, which have been in the asylum system from the end of June last year.

By the end of June this year, there were 67,870 so-called legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision.

The committee report said analysis from the Home Office suggests that even if the legacy backlog is cleared by the end of the year, it will be replaced by another 84,000 new asylum claims – those made after June last year.

The committee's inquiry found the Home Office struggled to explain how people would be assessed for suitability for room-sharing, or how past trauma or risk would be considered in the decisions.

This could have “serious consequences”, it said.

In their report, MPs said they were “surprised to hear that the Home Office is paying for in excess of 5,000 empty hotel beds as a ‘buffer’, in case its initial accommodation sites, such as Manston, cannot cope with the number of people arriving”.

The report also said a lack of co-ordination between the Home Office and local government meant the department was “competing with councils and their partners to secure accommodation, driving up prices and exacerbating the homelessness challenges that local authorities already face”.

Committee chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier said the asylum backlog “is leaving tens of thousands of people in limbo at an unacceptable cost of billions to the taxpayer”.

“But the compromises being made by the Home Office to meet its commitments are alarming, and some could have grave consequences,” the Labour Party MP said.

“Addressing the backlog at pace is of course desirable, but not if the government’s approach is to do so by simply shifting pressures on to other parts of the system, by risking more flawed decisions or genuine asylum claims being withdrawn, or most seriously by putting the safety of vulnerable people at risk.

“The government must lay out a realistic and detailed plan for transforming the asylum system in its updated business case, or risk making a bad situation worse.”

Migrants brought ashore on the Kent coast - in pictures

The cross-party committee raised concerns about the department’s method to increase the number of asylum decisions it makes by “introducing poorly designed questionnaires and assuming claims are withdrawn”.

It suggested the approach could lead to people in genuine need not having their application considered properly.

It comes as the government announced it would reduce the number of hotels used to house asylum seekers by 50 – or 12 per cent - over the next three months.

The government has introduced plans to house migrants at disused military bases and barges, in a bid to cut spending on hotels, which has hit £8 million ($9.6 million) a day.

The opposition Labour Party has also accused the Conservative government of axing the hotel accommodation in areas where it stands to gain politically from ending a practice that is often unpopular with local communities.

A Home Office representative insisted the department had “taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing while maintaining the integrity of the system”, including “simplifying guidance, streamlining processes and introducing shorter, focused interviews”.

The government maintains it is “confident that with increased capacity and improved efficiency, this will help deliver further significant output over the coming months” regarding the legacy backlog.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 9:27 AM