Compensation should reflect costs, says study

The Home Office should vary compensation levels for local
authorities supporting asylum seekers to reflect regional
accommodation costs, a report by the Audit Commission has

The report, commissioned by the Home Office, called for an end
to the fixed-grants that leave councils in high-rent areas out of
pocket and discourages others in low-rent areas from being

“A fairer way of compensating local authorities would be to set
thresholds based on local market rates as assessed independently by
the rent service,” it concludes. “This would inevitably mean that
the Home Office would need to increase rates in central London, but
rates would be reduced elsewhere.”

Fixed rates for subsistence and administration should be paid on
top of the variable thresholds for accommodation, it suggested.

After seeing a draft copy of the report in January, the Home
Office announced in March that the upper threshold for London
councils and Oxford and Slough would be raised to £350 a week
for asylum seeker families. The rate elsewhere is £240 a week
for families, or £140 for adults.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said they were now
considering the final report’s full findings.

Accommodation accounts for two-thirds of the cost of supporting
asylum seekers. Nearly all accommodation for in-country asylum
seekers is purchased from the private sector in the open

Audit Commission controller Andrew Foster welcomed the news that
London councils would now be able to claim more. But he added: “We
have discovered that some councils have not been as economical as
they could have been in supporting asylum seekers, and we question
whether some areas have been able to claim too much.”

Meanwhile, the voucher scheme introduced for asylum seekers in
April 2000 has come under fire again after the Home Office admitted
that no date had been set for the publication of a report on a
review of the scheme – originally due out at the beginning of the

Oxfam, the Refugee Council and the Transport and General Workers
Union have criticised the delay. Their survey in December set out a
case against vouchers, with 98 per cent of organisations saying
that asylum seekers were unable to buy essential items.

Chief executive of the Refugee Council Nick Hardwick added: “One
year on and the voucher nightmare for asylum seekers deepens. As
benefit levels rise with inflation, the value of vouchers will
become even more derisory, condemning asylum seekers to
unacceptable hardship.”

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