PricewaterhouseCoopers has validated claims by councils they are owed millions of pounds by government for services to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, after auditing their books.
The consultants said there was only a small chance that combined funding shortfalls of around £24.5m from 2006-8, identified by Hillingdon (£11.3m), Kent (£9.2m), Solihull (£3.4m) and Oxfordshire councils (£830,000), were “significantly misstated”. They found that the authorities had neither overestimated their own expenditure nor underestimated government funding, and suggested the scale of the shortfall was not the result of inefficiency.
The four were among nine authorities who claimed they had been short-changed by £35m over the two years in a report published in November. This covered services for unaccompanied asylum seekers aged under 18, funded by the Home Office, and those financed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families for over-18s.
In its report, PwC verified the authorities’ assessment of the level of government funding, and found few problems with their estimates of their own expenditure on care, support and overheads. It said differences in unit costs between the authorities could be explained by local circumstances and
Kent Council leader Paul Carter said the councils had been in intense negotiation with the government but had had no offer of a full refund.
He said Kent had been offered less than one-third of the money it is owed.
Carter added: “We won’t give up until the full costs are reimbursed and we have agreed a transparent and clearly understood formula for the reimbursement of future costs so we don’t have a repeat of this situation year on year.”
A DCSF spokesperson said: “We are very happy to discuss these issues with Kent and other authorities, but thus far, Kent Council has not taken us up on our offer to meet. We will consider the PwC report, but we have already settled recent claims on the care leavers grant and do not agree that we owe Kent any further sums.”
The news comes with the government apparently struggling to persuade councils to sign up to becoming specialist authorities for unaccompanied minors – an initiative designed to take the pressure off port of entry authorities in London and the South East.
Earlier this month, Liverpool Council, one of five holding talks with the Border and Immigration Agency about becoming a specialist council, claimed it was being “bribed” to take part by the BIA, saying the agency had offered to settle its outstanding cost claims.
The specialist authorities scheme was unveiled in reforms to support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children published last month, which included plans to transfer the DCSF’s funding for the group to the Home Office.