Home Office subcontractors force asylum seekers to share bedrooms in breach of council policy

Exclusive: Company providing asylum accommodation takes council to court in attempt to appeal ban on shared bedrooms despite claims it has ‘serious effect’ on residents’ mental health

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
@maybulman
Thursday 22 March 2018 21:06
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Home Office subcontractors force asylum seekers to share bedrooms in breach of council policy

A company subcontracted by the Home Office to run housing for asylum seekers is continuing to force residents to share bedrooms despite the local council banning the practice.

Newcastle City Council banned forced bedroom sharing, which sees unrelated asylum-seeking adults forced to share bedrooms with one another, in March 2017 following widespread public outcry.

The city council issued legal notices to property developer Jomast – contracted by G4S to provide accommodation for asylum seekers on behalf of the Home Office – under the Housing Act 2004 following an inspection of seven properties, which found they were over-occupied due to reliance on forced bedroom sharing.

But Jomast has refused to comply with the ban and is attempting to appeal the environmental health notices at a tribunal on Friday.

Campaigners described the practice of bedroom sharing as “degrading” and a “cause of real harm”, while the council acknowledged that it could have a “serious effect” on the mental health of asylum seekers.

One asylum seeker, 28-year-old Jerome, said sharing a bedroom had left him with “no privacy”, and that sharing his space with another man he didn’t know and who didn’t speak his language caused him a large amount of stress.

Another, Abdullah, 33, said he suffered from a skin condition meaning he has to sleep naked, but that he was unable to due to having to share a bedroom.

Jane Streather, cabinet member for public health and housing at Newcastle City Council, said: “Providing safe and secure housing for everyone in Newcastle, including asylum seekers, is extremely important.

“We know that poor housing can have a serious effect on the mental health of asylum seekers – it is vital that we provide an environment where they can live securely, supporting them to develop fully and integrate into their new community.

“This is reflected in our Accommodation Standards Policy, which was approved in 2017, and outlines fully our commitment to delivering a fair level of housing for everyone in our city.

Campaigners described the practice of bedroom sharing as ‘degrading’ and a ‘cause of real harm’ (Migration and Asylum Justice Forum)

“We will not hesitate to sanction organisations who do not share these values; the tribunal taking place on 23 March is part of this approach.”

Sam McGill, a volunteer with Migration and Asylum Justice Forum, which is staging a protest outside court on Friday, said: “Every adult, no matter their circumstances, deserves to live with dignity. That means – at the minimum – having a bedroom of their own where they can rest and have their own space.

“Forcing adult strangers to share bedrooms is degrading and causes real harm, it is disgusting that this practice is continuing across the region for the sole purpose of making money for Jomast.

“Jomast should listen to the council and listen to the people of Newcastle and end its deplorable reliance on forcing strangers to share bedrooms.”

A report by Home Affairs Select Committee in January 2017 described the standard of asylum accommodation in Newcastle and across the UK as “disgraceful”.

The Independent contacted Jomast for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication. G4S declined to comment.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a long history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.”

G4S Managing Director for COMPASS and Policing Services, John Whitwam said: “G4S subcontracts to Jomast to support us in providing housing for asylum seekers in the North East.

"Jomast conduct regular property inspections to ensure all their accommodation meets the contractual standards set by the Home Office. Where repairs or inventory replacements are necessary they are effected within tight deadlines set by the Home Office. In addition to this, the Home Office, as well as local authority housing teams, conduct random, no-notice joint inspections of numerous properties each month.

"All properties must comply for size, safety and all other housing standards with the standards set by the Home Office and the various extant Housing Acts, and are inspected regularly to ensure that they do."

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