Where an asylum seeker has no means to secure their own accommodation, the Home Office has a legal duty to provide them with a suitable place to live whilst their claim is determined. In order to discharge this duty, the Secretary of State for the Home Department has entered into a series of government contracts with a number of private accommodation providers. However, this scheme has been beset with problems.
Last month, the High Court found that the Home Office had systematically failed to monitor these contracts and, as a result, allowed vulnerable people to be left without accommodation or with wholly unsuitable accommodation for prolonged periods of time. In doing so, the Home Office was in breach of its obligations under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Human Rights Act 1998, and had violated those individuals’ rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court found that the private accommodation providers tended to overlook people with special needs, including those with serious illnesses or disabilities, and that the Home Office had implemented no safeguards against these people being left without suitable accommodation.
For example, one of the claimants in the case suffered from a number of chronic medical conditions and needed accommodation on the ground floor or access to a lift, which was not provided. This led to that individual sleeping rough for a period of time, living on the streets near the clinic he had to attend for essential medical treatment. Two months later the claimant was moved to alternative accommodation but the provider failed to make proper arrangements for his dietary requirements. Several months after that, the Claimant was moved again to a location which caused him difficulties in accessing his regular medical care.
The Court examined this and a number of other cases where the Home Office had failed to provide suitable accommodation to destitute asylum seekers without delay, including where the accommodation had been made available but where there was a subsequent failure to collect and move the persons concerned into the facilities. It was not uncommon for such delays to amount to several months.
The judge held that the Home Office had not been monitoring the contracts properly, which should have included identifying the characteristics, particular vulnerabilities and needs of the individuals involved, and following the progress of each case. In relation to the persons having a disability, the Court found that the current system’s ineffectiveness amounted to discrimination.
Importantly, the Court firmly rejected the Home Office argument that the delays in providing support to claimants were acceptable because those claimants were able to obtain some help from friends and charities.
The Home Office sought to argue that it was inappropriate for the Court to examine government contracts and stressed that claimants were free to approach the courts if something went wrong. In dismissing this argument, the Judge addressed the systemic failings in the system in the following terms:
“Obviously, this is what happens regularly, but the Court should be vigilant to identify where case by case decisions are necessary not because of a case specific dispute but because the system is operating unlawfully. If the system is operating unlawfully and the Court does not address that then its case-by-case involvement simply becomes part of the system. A system that reaches the point of depending on applications for judicial review to make it work may require particular scrutiny”.
The High Court’s decision is to be welcomed, given that it has highlighted a longstanding problem within the asylum support accommodation system. It is to be hoped that it will lead to meaningful policy changes in the way the Home Office approaches this issue.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Paralegal in our Complex Case Team