Exclusive: Hotel accommodation for unaccompanied children ‘at full capacity’ as advice says to accommodate more

The Home Office has run out of hotel space for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and halved the time councils have to move those already in hotels, amid concerns growing concerns about the shortage of adequate housing.

The Home Office is also increasing the share of unaccompanied child counsel that counsel must accept by 43%.

The department announced last week that it was accelerating the transfer of children from hotels into council care from ten working days to five, on the basis that it would ‘reduce the cost of accommodation by millions of pounds for the taxpayer UK and ensure that children get the care they need”. But LGC understands that there are no longer any Home Office-purchased hotel rooms available for unaccompanied children, making it imperative for children still in hotels to leave quickly.

Local Government Association chairman James Jamieson (Con) told members that government officials had said it was “due to unusually high arrival rates recently, current hotel accommodation is now at full capacity”.

Councils are expected to receive a communication from Home Office officials outlining the urgency of the situation, which an expert source described to the LGC as “truly dire”.

Push to move UASC from hotels creates ‘mismatch’

The Home Office has previously pledged to end the use of hotel accommodation for unaccompanied children, amid concerns about child trafficking. A report by the charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking revealed last month that 1,606 children arrived in England alone between July 2021 and June 2022 and were placed in hotels by the Home Office, 45 of whom went missing.

But arrival rates are thought to far outstrip the capacity of councils to accommodate them. In the year ending June 2022, government figures show there were 4,896 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a 30% increase from 2019, when 3,775 UASC have filed a request. In total, 11% of asylum applications are made by unaccompanied minors.

Steve Crocker, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, warned that appropriate placements for unaccompanied children “simply don’t exist” and that the issue “requires urgent national attention”.

The councils are also supporting Afghan and Ukrainian families and adult asylum seekers more generally, and an increase in homelessness and children in need of care is also impacting the ability of local authorities to provide accommodation and support at the UASC.

The LGA has raised concerns with the government that the changes “do not address fundamental challenges limiting the number of UASC councils that can support”, Cllr Jamieson said.

A source with insight into the national program said there was “a big difference between having a placement available and having the right placement available”.

‘The government is working hard to get children out of hotels, but councils have a responsibility under the Children’s Act 1989 to place a child according to their needs – that’s what the Ofsted researches when it inspects an authority. There is a disconnect in what the government wants councils to do and what councils can do under the law.”

The source also pointed out that the councils continue to be responsible for the person seeking asylum until the age of 25.

Councils forced to take on larger share of UASC

The National Transfer Scheme (NTS), under which unaccompanied children are transferred from their point of arrival in the UK, was a voluntary scheme until the end of last year. The Home Office has made it mandatory to ease the pressure felt by Kent CC, Croydon LBC and some other councils to take on a higher share of unaccompanied children.

At the time, a local authority had to participate in the system until it had reached the threshold of 0.07% of children under 17 in its territory being ENA. Now the Home Office has raised the threshold to 0.1%. For Kent for example, this increase means an increase in the number of unaccompanied children they are required to accept from 242 to 346.

Councils will continue to receive a higher funding rate for children above the 0.07% threshold, and councils accepting referrals for children in hotels will receive additional funding of £2,000 per month for three months , provided that the child is transferred within five working days. . However, the funding will still not cover all the costs of the advice.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is a sad reality that unaccompanied asylum seeking children continue to arrive in the UK after being exploited by insensitive smugglers who do not care. of their safety.

“The government is committed to protecting these children, including working with councils to secure childcare places as soon as possible through the National Compulsory Transfer Scheme.”

The impact of making the NTS system mandatory

Data shared exclusively with LGC by the LGA shows how the number of unaccompanied children transferred under the NTS has more than quadrupled since it became mandatory. Only 66 children were transferred in the third quarter of 2021, increasing to 304 children transferred in the first quarter of 2022.

Additionally, Kent shared data with LGC showing how their referrals have increased – from nine for August 2021 to 124 for this month.

There are concerns that with more UASC arriving, transfers from the point of arrival in Kent to other local authorities are taking on average between 15 and 20 days.

In London, 18 boroughs fell below the previous threshold of 0.07% and were therefore forced to receive NTS referrals. With the increase to 0.1%, the number of arrondissements below the threshold will increase to 28, an increase of ten arrondissements welcoming additional unaccompanied children. However, some boroughs were already voluntarily accepting more referrals than they were mandated to receive.

A source in London described finding suitable accommodation for unaccompanied children as ‘incredibly difficult’ given other pressures around finding affordable accommodation, although London boroughs are already generally able to place the UASC in accommodation within five working days.

LGC’s national source said city councils with experience in accommodating unaccompanied children will be able to cope with the requirement to take more, and within the five-day deadline. But it will be more difficult for local authorities that do not already have the right infrastructure, such as specialized social workers. These tend to be in more rural areas, particularly in the South West of England.

“In some cases, children refuse to go to placements – or they get there and realize that no one around them speaks their language or looks like them, and then they run away, which becomes another situation of protection,” they said.

A source in the south east of England told LGC: ‘Some councils are just not set up for this at all, and they have to deal with a lot of children. Some councils are already overwhelmed.”

Kent Refugee Action Network chief executive Dr Razia Shariff echoed that sentiment, saying there is a problem with “the quality and consistency of delivery” for UASC in some areas. “Some local authorities aren’t used to receiving separated asylum seekers, so they don’t have the right kind of infrastructure in place to support them,” she said. “Local authorities really should be encouraged and supported more by government to provide the right kind of support for young people arriving.”

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