Seeking saftey – Partners in Housing

Luker outlines the role registered social landlords could have in housing
asylum seekers under the dispersal scheme.

new arrangements for the dispersal of asylum seekers were introduced by the
Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and have been in operation for a year. How far
have housing associations been involved in this process and how can their
contribution be measured?

Peacock, director of Safe Haven Yorkshire housing association, measures the
contribution in terms of "added value". Safe Haven is a partnership
between two Yorkshire-based registered social landlords, set up to deliver a
home office contract to provide over 2,000 units of accommodation under the
dispersal programme.

says that Safe Haven’s objective is to add value to the basic contract from the
home office. He points out that Safe Haven’s staff to service-user ratio is
1:30 compared to 1:60 or higher in the private sector. Each service-user is
provided with intensive housing management and support, and staff help asylum
seekers to access the services that they need including legal, medical,
counselling and education services.

Haven has established links with refugee community organisations in an attempt
to provide culturally appropriate support, and the RSL team includes staff from
a range of ethnic backgrounds with relevant language skills.

El-Hassan from the Housing Association’s Charitable Trust (HACT) believes that
this is key to the successful resettlement of asylum seekers and refugees. HACT
runs training schemes for refugee community organisations, and one of the
benefits has been an increased awareness of the role of RSLs.

Haven is the only RSL to have signed a contract with the home office, although
a handful have been sub-contracted by local authority consortia to provide
services on their behalf.

why has the involvement of RSLs been so limited?

Pearl from Oxford Brooks University, co-author of a report 1 on
asylum seekers and access to social housing, thinks that RSLs are wary of
getting involved in such a politically sensitive area. There is also a high
level of uncertainty involved, for example, about what happens if a service
user’s claim for asylum is refused.

Haven is keen to lease accommodation from other RSLs to house asylum seekers,
but has been disappointed by its lack of success. The initial expectation of
the organisation was that most of their accommodation would be provided by the
RSL sector; after all, Safe Haven operates in an area where voids are a problem
due to low demand. However, 90 per cent of Safe Haven’s accommodation is from
the private sector.

RSLs have expressed an interest, but have been slow to get involved. Peacock explains
that it is a new way of working for many RSLs – properties are leased to safe
Haven – and the legal process of drawing up leases has taken both sides longer
than expected.

obstacle to involvement is the cost involved in setting up services for asylum
seekers. The home office has been criticised for driving too hard a bargain
when setting up contracts and putting cost before quality.

accepts that RSLs need to look at the costs involved, but argues that housing
providers should consider their moral commitment to house those in need.

published by Shelter has shown that many asylum seekers are placed in dangerous
and poor quality housing. Shelter argues that this is because most of the
accommodation provided through the dispersal scheme is in the private sector
and, whilst there are good private landlords, the private rented sector
contains some of the worst housing stock.

believes that a strategic, rather than a political approach is needed, and RSLs
should be involved at the planning stage. The government needs to develop a
coherent funding strategy which considers the quality as well as the cost of
services, and recognises both the short-term and long-term needs of asylum

sharing among RSLs must be a priority to increase involvement, and the Housing
Corporation could encourage RSLs to play a more active role by disseminating
good practice. 

1  Managing to Survive – Asylum seekers,
refugees and access to social housing
by Zetter and Pearl, Oxford Brookes
University, is published by the Policy Press.

2  Far from Home: the housing of asylum
seekers in private rented accommodation
is available from Shelter

Luker is a policy officer with the National Housing Federation.

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