Asylum-seeking children plan could face delay

EXCLUSIVE: UK Border Agency has agreed to negotiate how costs shortfall will be met

Government plans to disperse unaccompanied asylum seeking-children out to a small number of “specialist” authorities, easing pressure on London and the South East, could be significantly delayed, it has been claimed.

Under reforms published in January, the UK Border Agency planned to begin negotiations in the spring, and have the first authorities running by this autumn. Solihull, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds began talks with UKBA over the scheme but concerns over funding have stalled progress.

Solihull chief executive Mark Rogers told Community Care this week he did not expect the scheme to be fully implemented until April 2010, following a period of piloting.

In April, the 10 councils looking after the majority of asylum-seeking children, including Solihull and Liverpool, went to the House of Lords claiming the government owed millions of pounds in unmet costs.

The move came after council leaders warned that specialist authorities must be properly funded, including the cost of continuing to care for youngsters until age 21.

In February, Stuart Smith, director of children’s services at Liverpool Council, claimed the Home Office had tried to “bribe” it into becoming a specialist authority by promising to meet outstanding costs .

Following the councils’ claims, the UK Border Agency has agreed to negotiate how shortfalls will be met.

Rogers backed the specialist authority reform in principle, he added: “There has been a fairly protracted period of negotiation over retrospective settlements. Until councils get them they won’t re-engage with the reform programme – it’s a case of quid pro quo.”

In a letter to all council chief executives outside London and the South East seen by Community Care, the UK Border Agency said it now “wanted to make progress on the establishment of specialist authorities”, starting with meetings with councils in mid-October.

The letter, on 28 August, from Brian Kinney, the director of the UASC reform programme, said UKBA hoped the agreement on the issue of prior claims “has gone some way to mitigating the main concern local authorities had about becoming involved,” referring to funding for children over the age of 18.

But when contacted by Community Care, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds said they were still in talks over the specialist authority scheme and that nothing had been decided.

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