This week the Government announced plans to remove basic protections to asylum tenants including safety regulations and protections against overcrowded conditions.
SYMAAG has worked in solidarity with asylum tenants for safe and dignified asylum accommodation before and since the full privatisation of asylum housing in 2012.
Protests and complaints from tenants have won real gains from housing contractors and pushed some Local Authorities into active oversight and regulation of standards.
But does the latest Government announcement mean the end of asylum tenants rights and a race to the bottom in housing standards and tenants’ safety and well-being? John Grayson who has written extensively about asylum accommodation gives his reaction to the latest attacks on asylum tenants.
Briefing from John Grayson on attacks on asylum tenants’ rights
Private landlords at present outside the Accommodation and Support Contracts (AASC) Contracts (Mears is the contractor in South Yorkshire) are usually unable to house asylum seekers, because insurance companies usually refuse to insure them. The contractors enable the houses to be insured. If the contractors want to take advantage it is not clear how they can.
Under the AASC there are contract requirements to supply safe accommodation to asylum seekers. I realise that Mears, Serco and Clearsprings ignore this, but it is not clear how the new regulations could make this worse. Also, Local Authorities have discretionary powers to use enforcement powers on landlords of any private rented housing which is unfit.
The Home Office will retain some oversight because civil servants will have to sign off contracts (asylum seekers cannot be moved without HO approval)
We sometimes forget how few housing rights asylum seekers have. The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act stripped them of all tenancy rights established in law. A housing tribunal in Newcastle in 2018 established
that asylum landlords (in this case Jomast) could make asylum tenants share bedrooms in HMO’s.
The new regulations cannot be retrospective so it is unclear how this will affect South Yorkshire asylum housing. Through campaigning and mobilising Council action we already have Sheffield banning sharing, and Mears is on record as accepting no bedroom sharing in areas like Kirklees.
My own view is that in a week where the government introduced a bill to stop landlords evicting with no reason (Section 21) this is ‘performance politics’ for public consumption apparently easing restrictions on a tiny number of asylum landlords and being even nastier to asylum seekers.
I may be wrong…time will tell.
We have improved the quality of asylum housing through campaigning we should continue our campaigns in solidarity with tenants of asylum housing.
John Grayson 18.5.2023