Agenda item

Asylum Seeker Dispersal

To inform Cabinet of the potential financial and social implications of the Government’s Asylum Seeker Dispersal programme to the extent that it will relate to Fenland.


Councillor Hoy presented the report on the potential financial and social implications of the Government’s Asylum Seeker Dispersal programme as it relates to Fenland.


Councillor Hoy stated that the Council has had notification that it will be expected to house significant number of asylum seekers by December 2023 and this worries her for a number of reasons

·       she does not like the way it has been forced upon Fenland, with all councils being made to take asylum seekers but it is not right that the Council is not allowed to say no and she is very frustrated when Government force this policy on the Council, particularly when they do not understand Fenland’s needs and issues;

·       there is a real shortage of housing so where will these asylum seekers be housed and all members know of residents in their own areas who are struggling to find housing, both social and private;

·       will Serco be buying houses or renting houses per person because if it is individual units it is going to be a significant number of houses taken, if it is to create HMOs or hotels that is also going to have a knock-on effect for the wider area and not enough work has been undertaken by the Government on the implications to local services and housing supply;

·       if an asylum seeker claim fails they are going to be signposted to leave but how can it be ensured that they do actually leave, they will be left with no recourse to public funds and Government’s answer seems to be you do not have to pay for them so no problem, but some of the rough sleepers have no recourse to public funds but that does not solve the problem as the Council does not want people living in tents in streets as not only does it look unsightly it is not good for people health and how they should be living; and

·       if the Council has to take on so many asylum seekers by next year how do members know it will not be the same number or more year after year. It is being reported that 1,000 people are coming over the Channel a day how are those numbers going to materialise all over the country.


Councillor Hoy expressed the view that it is clear that Government want to get people out of hotels and thinks disbursing them across the country is the way to do this, but this is not dealing with the real issue and Government is not getting to grips with immigration. She feels that with this issue the Council needs to be strong as if you are a pushover the Government will just push and walk all over you, particularly as Fenland has cheap housing. 


Councillor Hoy stated that West Midlands Council were strong, they all clubbed together taking the Government to a judicial review, having previously taken the bulk of asylum seekers, and won, which is why the Government has changed its policy now and gone for full dispersal. She suggests that a watching brief is kept over this issue as the Council does need to be prepared to be strong if necessary in future but for the time being the recommendations set out in the report be followed.


Members made comments, asked questions and received responses as follows:

·       Councillor Boden expressed his serious concern over this matter, not just in Fenland but nationally, but members do need to consider what the impact will be on Fenland. He stated that on a full dispersal scheme, which Government are saying they plan to have eventually, so long as you have 1,000 illegal immigrants coming across the Channel on a daily basis Fenland will be expected to take two every single day and this is more than just a worrying prospect. Councillor Boden stated that the first thing that the Council is demanding the Government does is get the border sorted out, take stronger action to deter people, to stop people, to return people, to take stronger action than is being undertaken at the moment; secondly to process people more quickly and to deport those individuals who have no right to be here; and thirdly the Government has to be more discriminating in where these asylum seekers will be dispersed to because it will be entirely inappropriate for asylum seekers who may not have any English at all and be of the same culture as the indigenous population to be “dumped” for example in a village with no bus service and no ability to get to any town where there may be services which may be appropriate for them, which is a recipe for disaster not just for them but also potentially for the local community. He stated that the Council is asking for all these things to be undertaken and for the Member of Parliament and for the newly appointed Prime Minister to push this forward, with the impact that this will have, not just on the asylum seekers themselves but also on the local communities if there becomes a shortage of rented properties as a result of Serco’s actions not just for the numbers they are currently talking about, which are confidential, but also for the additional 50% which it is assumed will take place once the number of illegal asylum seekers reaches 100,000 according to the Gov.UK website, in Fenland on the private rented sector is going to be significant for many individuals and this just does not seem to have been taken into account.

·       Councillor Mrs French stated that Councillor Hoy had summed it up well as it will be very worrying if Fenland is forced to take asylum seekers as Fenland does already have a shortage of housing and whilst she is not against helping people, the District needs to look after its own residents first.

·       Councillor Tierney agrees with what Councillor Hoy says and would go further as he is sick and tired of the Government making stupid decisions and then passing the problem down the line to people who did not make those stupid decisions. He expressed the opinion that people say to him all the time why is the country allowing up to 1,000 people a day who we do not know anything about and people are frustrated with seeing these asylum seekers put up in hotels and lots of money thrown at them when people here are struggling and things are getting harder and the harder things get the more angry people are going to get and that anger will be directed fairly or unfairly at the newcomers. Councillor Tierney feels it is a recipe for unhappiness and difficulties and is a bad policy overall, but as the Government are getting focused on about putting asylum seekers in hotels it thinks to solve the problem they should be farmed out to all the areas, which he feels is stupid, Fenland is not just short of housing but has issues with dentists, doctors, school places and travel and all of these things will be compounded every time a bunch of people arrive who the area knows nothing about because if they had come through proper channels they would not be asylum seekers. He feels that a fair number of asylum seekers are economic migrants who are coming to the UK for a better way of life, which he has no problem with, but there is a limit to how much help can keep being extended day after day without impacting the country’s own people. Councillor Tierney stated that he would like to be much stronger and wished that the Council had the financial ability to take the Government to court as it is the wrong policy and the Government should be told that Fenland does not want this, not because it does not want to help people, it is very diverse already, it is about the pace of change and the struggles that the people who live in Fenland have right now, who elected members to represent them.

·       Councillor Benney raised concern with the effect this will have on the private sector housing market, which will drive the cost of housing up for everybody as where there is a shortage the prices will go up and that will affect local people, who are already struggling. He referred to several families who have approached him lately looking for accommodation, who have the funds but just cannot find anywhere and these are local people, who the Council should be looking after and this scheme will add further strain to the market. He agreed with the comments of other members.

·       Councillor Hoy expressed frustrations with the Government as she feels that some people watching the meeting will be thinking that members are being unkind to a group of people, but the Government needs to get to grips with people accessing routes that should not be allowed to them.

·       Councillor Benney made the point that asylum seekers are travelling across European countries and they could claim asylum in these countries and do not have to come to England. He feels this is a backdoor way of people coming to this country and the country is being taken advantage of.


Proposed by Councillor Hoy, seconded by Councillor Boden and AGREED to:

·       note the contents of the report;

·       request officers to provide instructions as to what preparations need to be made by the Council in respect of the Asylum Seeker Dispersal Programme and the assessment of the Council’s revenue budget implications of the scheme; and

·       instruct officers, in conjunction with the Portfolio Holder for Housing, to send letters to Steve Barclay MP and the new Prime Minister to demand:

o   that Government continues and increases its attempts to identify and reduce the number of illegal asylum seekers entering and remaining in the UK

o   that Government significantly improves the asylum processing system so that asylum seekers’ applications are processed in a timely manner

o   that measures to remove from the UK those destitute individuals who have no recourse to public funds be significantly improved

o   that all additional local authority costs resulting from the Asylum Seeker Dispersal Policy should be guaranteed to be reimbursed in full by Government, including those costs which are incurred following an asylum seeker’s application for asylum being refused.

Supporting documents: